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Bruce Blair

Bruce Blair

Nuclear security expert | Won 1999 'Genius' grant | Class of 1970

The first eight memories that come to mind when Bruce Blair (BS '70) — Princeton professor, world-renowned nuclear security expert, 1999 MacArthur Foundation 'Genius' grant winner — harkens back to his days at the UI:

1. "Organic chem lab lit up with tungsten burners and riven with noxious smells. Skipping it often was my grade downfall."

2. Kam’s, "my second home, dining spot of choice — for burgers, watery beer and cigs — and downfall 2.0. More pinball than homework."

3. "My frat house a block away — cigs and bridge all night, glued to TV the night of the first draft lottery, a depressing night finished off at Kam’s."

4. "I always slept in a chair instead of the freezing dorm, which was great practice for later — sleeping acrobatically in my Air Force launch chair in an underground nuclear missile launch center in Montana."

5. Green Street. "I lived there my freshman year and had a front-row perch for National Guard riots against my idealistic, righteous and innocent classmates. Maybe a few exceptions."

6. Memorial Stadium, and its "endless source of chuckles: loss after sorry loss, a band major friend high-strutting down the football field in funny fuzzy-hatted costume, and another friend totally improvising and appropriating — before we realized this translates into inappropriate — Native American dance and culture as Chief Illiniwek."

7. "Summer in Mallorca 'working' for an assistant professor of anthropology who had a grant to study the effects of tourism on the local culture. Ha! Very tempting to switch to this major, one of Illinois’ many top-ranked departments with luminaries like Oscar Lewis of Cuba study acclaim. By the way, I later wound up spending many long dinners with 'El Jefe,' Fidel Castro, at his Havana palace over the years. I gave up cigs but had great cigars."

8. "And last but foremost, my summers subbing for ad 'execs' rotating thru two-week vacations at The Champaign-Urbana News Gazette. Cloistered in an office with six to seven regulars in downtown Champaign, I loved the camaraderie; the books of cut-out figures and memes, as well as the metal molds used in ad production; long coffee breaks at the boothed cafe across the street; zipping around town picking up ads in my Spitfire convertible; and the great summer pay — $1.50 per hour.

"The manager, Les, was a great human being who encouraged me more than anyone during my four years at Illinois."