Mr Blake Oct 2017

Lillard Blake, left, with John Lindsey, Pacific Gas and Electric Company marine meteorologist and columnist. Blake was Lindsey's eighth-grade science teacher at Comstock Junior High School in Santa Rosa.

Contributed photo

Lillard Blake is a retired eighth-grade science teacher who taught thousands of students over a four-decade-long career, nearly all of it at Comstock Junior High School in Santa Rosa. To say he had a long-lasting impact on my life and undoubtedly many other learners would be an understatement; in fact, besides my dad, he probably had the most.

Mr. Blake grew up on his family’s farm in the center of Kansas where they raised wheat and dairy cows. He acquired his unusual first name from a beloved farmhand.

He attended Sterling College in Kansas and majored in chemistry and history.

Sterling has a population of about 2,300 people and could easily be out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Mr. Blake attended this liberal arts school because it was the closest college to his family’s farm. With the start of winter, the workload diminished as temperatures decreased, allowing him to concentrate on his schoolwork. In January, the coldest month in Sterling, the average low temperature is 18 degrees with a daily mean of 29, but quickly warms by April with an average high of 67.

Last month, I got to see him again for the first time in 45 years due to a chance conversation with Los Osos resident Steve Weiss. Turns out, Steve’s wife, Sherri, is related and is very close to Mr. Blake and his wife, Kay. Lillard and Kay were in Los Osos visiting Steve and Sherri at their home and invited me over.

The last time I remember Mr. Blake was in December of 1972 in his recently constructed science classroom. I could tell you where I sat and remembered the feel of the dark gray countertops, stainless steel sinks, lab stools and the smell of the Bunsen burners and glassware.

December 1972 was colder than average and many of the mud puddles that surrounded the school would freeze during the overnight hours, allowing us to partially ice skate across these shallow small bodies of water. That month, KFRC 610 AM radio, the station all the kids listened to, continuously played Carly Simon’s "You're So Vain" and Elton John’s "Crocodile Rock," but I mostly remembered, Mr. Blake's laugh and smile. He was my favorite teacher.

His lesson plans were thought-provoking. One was titled “How sweet it is” where you combined the white powdery crystals of citric acid and sugar to make lemonade, or combining sugar and sulfuric acid to create “black snakes” through reactive chemistry.

Another science teacher, Hank Paterson, who went to Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, taught with Mr. Blake for all those years at Comstock. He would sponsor a lunchtime seminar in his classroom every week.

In those days, fellow “geek,” “nerd” and “freak” students would gather and ask questions and discuss current events as they related to science. At that time, NASA’s Apollo 17, the last Apollo mission, was heading back from the moon. I remember asking about the vacuum of space and what would happen if their spacesuits sprung a leak or what’s faster than the speed of light. A thought-provoking question indeed!

They say you can never go back, but last month, during our conversation with Mr. Blake, his broad smile and stories transported me back to 1972.

I have a great deal of respect for teachers. They drain nearly all their emotional energy into their classrooms and do awe-inspiring amounts of after-hours work at home or coffee shops grading papers or tests that often leads to exhaustion at the end of the day.

If you’re a teacher, and you think you’re not making a difference, think again, you are.

* * *

Nearly 70 percent of the electricity Pacific Gas and Electric Co. delivered to its customers in 2016 came from greenhouse gas-free resources such as nuclear (Diablo Canyon Power Plant) and large hydro. An average of 32.8 percent of its electricity in 2016 came from renewable resources, including solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and small hydroelectric power plants.

John Lindsey is Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s Diablo Canyon Power Plant marine meteorologist and a media relations representative. Email him at or follow him on Twitter @PGE_John.


Load comments