Rob Blair, a well-known outdoors enthusiast and former Fort Lewis College geosciences professor, died Thursday afternoon while cross-country skiing at the trails along Vallecito Reservoir. He was 71.
Blair died of a heart attack, said Larry Phelps, La Plata County chief deputy coroner, who responded to the scene.
Friends and colleagues contacted Friday recalled Blair as well-liked, energetic and someone who was very involved with many aspects of the Durango community.
“We're all very sad to hear about his passing,” said David Gonzales, chairman of the FLC geosciences department and a former student of Blair's, as well as colleague.
Gonzales said Blair continued to be active with the department since his retirement in 2001. He was involved with students and helped some with their senior thesis projects.
“It's important to point out all the contributions he's made to Fort Lewis, to the community. He's been a real contributor to Durango,” Gonzales said. “It's a big loss. He's going to be missed.”
Upper Pine Fire Protection District received a call at 3 p.m. Thursday and responded to the scene, Phelps said. A doctor who was working at Upper Pine's station next to Vallecito declared Blair dead at 3:15 p.m.
Blair had a history of heart problems, Phelps said.
His body was found about 2 miles above Old Timers Park on the groomed trails. He had his boots and skis on when found, Phelps said.
Blair was a founder of the Mountain Studies Institute, a nonprofit research and education center incorporated in 2002 in Silverton that now has offices in both Silverton and Durango.
“I think it's fair to say the idea of Mountain Studies was his,” said Charlie Burnham, a retired geology professor who was the institute's second president. “He was still involved.”
Marcie Demmy Bidwell, executive director of Mountain Studies since 2010, said Blair was “never afraid of a big idea.”
“Rob was always our idea guy. Big ideas. Big dreams. He has an infectious way of telling a story and getting you excited,” Bidwell said.
Blair was born Nov. 28, 1943, in Bossier City, Louisiana. He received an undergraduate degree in geology from the University of New Mexico and a doctorate in geology from Colorado School of Mines. He married Patricia Roberts on June 11, 1966, in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
Blair taught geosciences at FLC from 1973 to 2001. He has been published extensively. He co-edited and was among the authors for two regional geology books, The Western San Juan Mountains and its follow-up, The Eastern San Juan Mountains.
Blair had climbed mountains on all seven continents and was a runner, swimmer and photographer. He also loved horseshoes, among other pursuits.
Blair is survived by his wife, Pat, two children, Katrina Blair and Kurt Blair, and two grandchildren, Galen and Dylan Blair.
Memorial arrangements have not yet been made.