Update 2018: I am so proud that I can continue to present the Norman S. Blackman award at the annual Columbia University Fencing team dinner. This year in 2018 my husband John and I had the pleasure of sitting with some of the young fencers. One of them actually received this award!
This weekend, I had the honor of presenting the first ever annual Norman S. Blackman Award to a member of the Columbia University Fencing Team. I established this award in my father’s name, because he wasn’t just an adored father, he was an exceptional man. I hope that today’s young college students will use him as an example of how to lead a good life. This is particularly relevant, in the wake of the Boston terror attacks, carried out by two young men, one just 19 years old and in college. I wonder what kind of life he could have lived if he had been inspired by positive role models like Norman S. Blackman?
-Alison Blackman Dunham–
We are told that we should do unto others, to be kind, to be charitable, to be knowledgeable, to be loyal, to be a good citizen, to be a good sport, to be brave, to take personal responsibility for our actions, to respect others, and to do what we believe is the right thing.
Institutions like Columbia University, help students aspire to these ideals. But how many of us actually live them?
One Columbia alumni who did, was Dr. Norman S. Blackman, a graduate of the class of 1941. I am honored that he was also, my father.
Norman Blackman grew up in Brooklyn and lived most of his life there, except for a stint in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He became a noted doctor, had many talents and excelled at many things.
Most relevant for this audience is that he was a member of the Columbia University fencing team. He won a number of fencing medals, and later on he continued to be active as a member of the fencing club of NYC.
I have been asked to keep my comments brief, so I can’t tell you all the amazing things that my father accomplished but I can tell you that he succeeded at living a life that met all of the ideals that are embodied by Columbia.
He was respectful. He was thoughtful, and he was a gentleman. He was a good sport. He handled any obstacles that he found, with great dignity and without blame or complaints. He never had a bad word to say about anyone.
Dad had strong opinions, but he never put anyone else down for theirs. He tried to understand the other person’s point of view, even if he didn’t agree with it. He always did what he thought was right. “Virtue is it’s own reward” he often said to me, when I complained that I didn’t get the accolades or attention I thought I deserved.
My father was very active in working to better the practice of medicine. Sometimes, this had consequences beyond his control. Back in 1987, while serving as a doctor on the NYC Firemen’s pension board, a former fireman whose pension had been denied, burst into the room and fatally shot another physician.
As his colleague lay dying, with the gun now aimed at his head, my father called “911” and then calmly talked the gunman into surrendering his weapon, and escorted him into police custody. Newspapers throughout New York hailed him a hero. He modestly, never mentioned it, unless pressed to do so.
His personal life wasn’t any different from his professional life. He married his childhood sweetheart (my mother) and was devoted to her for 52 years until she died. He retired from the practice of medicine to take care of her at home, as she wished.
As a father, he was interested in everything my sister and I did, and he tried hard to inspire his daughters to try new things. He became not just a father, but a friend that my husband and I had lots of fun with, until he died at age 89.
Those who live, as my father did, striving every day to be a better person to make a better world, are very rare. It is in the spirit of making your fencing team, your university, and your world, a better place to be in, that I am pleased to present this, the first Norman S. Blackman annual award to the member of the fencing team who best embodies the qualities of athletic accomplishment, sportsmanship, and community.