Civic Leader Robert Block Is Dead At 73

Investment banker Robert J. "Bob" Block was once described as the yeast in Seattle's dough - a provocative man with bold ideas such as taking the center of a city and turning it into an international fair.

After a long battle with respiratory complications from polio, Mr. Block suffered a stroke yesterday and died at his Capitol Hill home. He was 73.

Mr. Block helped engineer the first $7.5 million bond issue that authorized the city to buy the land for the Seattle Center and site of the 1962 World's Fair, and lobbied heavily for it.

The year was 1956 and the spade work for the World's Fair would mark Mr. Block's place in the city's history. He was later named to the Seattle Center Legion of Honor.

But friends say Mr. Block's strong opinions and devotion to expanding Seattle's political and cultural horizons would shape the city in myriad other ways as well.

He was a fighter, they say, who nearly died from polio when he was 30 and spent his life battling respiratory problems.

Longtime friend Ancil Payne, former president of King Broadcasting Company, said Mr. Block never complained, even when he was neck deep in an iron lung at the Veterans Hospital in Seattle, fighting for his life.

"It was always thumbs up. Even when he couldn't speak," Payne recalled. "He refused to complain. He'd have no part of it."

Payne recalled visiting Mr. Block last week while his friend, breathing with a respirator tube through his larynx, yelled about who should be governor.

"Nothing ever quieted Bob completely," he said. "He loved Seattle. He loved the conflict."

Mr. Block was born in Seattle in 1922, an only son and fourth-generation Seattleite whose great grandfather was one of the area's early rabbis.

For years Mr. Block helped his father run the Block Shoe Stores, Inc., which operated dozens of shoe stores across the Northwest.

After attending Stanford University and the University of Washington, Mr. Block quit and joined the Army in World War II. When he returned, he became an investment banker and founded National Securities, a national discount broker. Mr. Block served as chairman and chief executive officer until retiring three years ago.

But politics was Mr. Block's passion, said his wife of 23 years, Mary Lou Block.

A member of the national executive council of the American Jewish Committee and an active Democrat, Mr. Block served on numerous boards. He founded the nonprofit Allied Arts of Seattle, served as chairman and director of the Cornish College of the Arts, and was a founding trustee of the Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood. In addition, he served as chairman of the Puget Sound chapter of the National Foundation for the March of Dimes and the Metro Campaign Committee, and was on the board of the Seattle Public Library Foundation. In 1967, Mr. Block was elected King County Freeholder.

Mr. Block ran unsuccessfully for Seattle Port Commission and for the Seattle City Council, said Mrs. Block.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Block is survived by his children, Jonathan Block of New Zealand; Adam Block of San Francisco; Daniel Block of Italy; Kenan Block of Washington, D.C.; Susanna Conway of Boulder, Colo.; Mary Judith Block of Ann Arbor, Mich; and his stepchildren, Melinda Mulvaney of Marysville; Newton Moats of Algona; Christina Moats of Greenbank, Island County; and Tamara Moats of Seattle.

A memorial service for Mr. Block will be at 4 p.m. tomorrow at Temple De Hirsch Sinai, 1511 E. Pike St., Seattle. The family will hold a private burial the following day.