Professor Emeritus Phyllis Blair says she has enjoyed three wonderful lives so far: a childhood in western New York with summers spent paddling a canoe around a lake; a swath of adulthood at UC Berkeley as a graduate student and faculty member; and now her senior years in San Francisco, cultivating artistic expression.
Being a female in a man’s world required a certain amount of steel,says Blair, who became a full professor in the mid-1960s, at a time when few women graced Cal’s faculty in the sciences. Blair’s research spanned biology, genetics, virology, and immunology over four decades. She loved joining graduate students on “quests to go beyond what was known and look at things from a totally different perspective.”
Blair thought she might continue her “Type A” scientific exploration through retirement. Instead, she tapped another part of her brain. “Why don’t I try splashing paint around and see what happens?” she asked herself. She has done so with gusto. Blair has also become a generous supporter of Berkeley graduate students, creating fellowships through gifts of property. She says the real estate gifts make good sense because she is now free from the responsibility of managing property investments and yet still receives a monthly income — leaving her more time for art, travel, and attending the symphony and opera.
“I have the pleasure of knowing that my money will go where I want it to go,” says Blair. “Until then, it provides me with a nice income.”