SOMESVILLE and WASHINGTON, D.C. — Robert O. Blake, a longtime summer resident of Somesville, died peacefully at his home in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 28, 2015. He was 94. A career diplomat who served throughout the world, Bob also was passionate about the trails and wild places of Mount Desert Island and the state of Maine. A dedicated conservationist, he served on many boards at the local and national level, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Wilderness Society, the Nature Conservancy, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Friends of Acadia and, most recently, the Mount Desert Land & Garden Preserve.
Bob Blake served in the U.S. Foreign Service for three decades, from 1947 until 1977. He served in Nicaragua, Moscow and Tokyo, before returning to Washington to head up the Soviet desk at the State Department. A Russian speaker, he was a Soviet expert in the U.S. Mission to the United Nations during the Cuban missile crisis. He also served as political officer in Tunis, deputy chief of mission in Kinshasa and Paris, and U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Mali.
After a distinguished 30-year career in the diplomatic corps, he began a second career in international sustainable development. Concerned that the USAID and other U.S. government policies were funding the destruction of natural resources throughout the world, he joined the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) as senior fellow in 1977, heading up their advocacy work in Washington. There he organized the Tropical Forest Action Group that convinced USAID to withdraw its funding for clearing tropical forests in Latin America for cattle ranches.
In 1986, he founded the Committee on Agricultural Sustainability for Developing Countries that worked to influence the agricultural and rural development policies and programs of the World Bank, USAID and the InterAmerican Development Bank. He believed in the “absolute need to make farmers — especially the women farmers who do most of the work in many places — full partners in agricultural development.”
In his final years of life, he became increasingly concerned about poverty and hunger in the United States. He volunteered for the Salvation Army, where he delivered food to the homeless at night. He also delivered Meals on Wheels.
Born in Los Angeles, Calif., on April 7, 1921, he grew up in Whittier, Calif. He attended Stanford University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1943. He then joined the Navy and served as an officer on the U.S. Duluth in the Pacific. After completing a master’s degree at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, he joined the Foreign Service in 1947.
Survivors include his wife of 59 years, Sylvia Whitehouse Blake; three children, Robert Blake Jr., currently serving as U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, Lucy Blake of Palo Alto, Calif.; and George Blake of Newport, R.I.; and five grandchildren.