MIDDLEBURY - Robert Dike Blair died Saturday, Oct. 31, of natural causes. Dike-as he was known all his life as "Dike Blair" (not Robert)-was born in New Castle, Pa. in 1919, to George Dike Blair Jr. and Hazel (Singluff) Blair, attended local schools, then a year at the Hill School, then Williams College (graduated 1940; B.A. degree) After a year at Kaufmann's Store, he was drafted before Pearl Harbor and served in the U.S. Army (Regular Army), in the classification section, DEML, in five posts.
In 1942, Dike and Reba Blizzard of Harrisburg, Pa., were married. She traveled with him post to post until his discharge in 1945. They wanted to be in New England and own a bookstore. For bookstore experience Dike worked for the Doubleday Book Shop chain, becoming manager of their Fisher Building Shop (Detroit) until he left in 1949, to start the Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury, sharing space with an antique shop in an old brick house on College Street (later the College Deanery).
In 1955, the A & P moved out of a prime spot on Middlebury's Main Street, and Dike moved in. He added a record department which made the Vermont Book Shop Vermont's first book and record store. Robert Frost was a good customer and booster. (He liked to say that Dike could read his mind, and know just what book he had come for).
In 1951, under the imprint Vermont Books, Dike published "Four Ducks on a Pond", charming stories of Middlebury written by Alice Brainard Nelson. A dozen books followed, including titles by Walter Hard, Victor Reichert and William Hazlett Upson all with the Vermont Books imprint. The books now are out of print, but available through OP Book Dealers. Dike's own title "Books and Bedlam" (described by the author as "a sort of book" but by Bennett Cerf as "fresh and engaging humor" and by the Library Journal as "Thoroughly Delightful!") Usually is listed in the Web's OP Section, and sometimes in stock at local bookstores.
From 1970 to 1984, he was a director and an officer in the American Booksellers' Association. Locally he was a member of the Downtown Merchants' Bureau and served on the Cornwall School Board, Porter Hospital Board of Directors, and the original Middlebury Zoning Commission. In his family's business, Blair Strip Steel Co, founded by his father in 1927, and managed by his brother, Thomas S. Blair, he was a director and vice president for many years.
Dike retired and sold "The Shop" in 1993 to Laura and John Scott, and it currently is owned by Becky and Chris Dayton, so books now are Dike's hobby, not his job. His hobby now is "Magic." He was a boy magician, joined the International Brotherhood of Magicians in 1935 and gave many shows at schools, clubs and banquets. Although he gave up performing years ago, he kept his interest and went regularly to magicians' yearly conventions. He is survived by his wife, Reba and three daughters, Ann Dike Blair of Portland, Ore., her children, Christopher and Stephanie Haynes, Susan B. Johnson and husband Michael of Monterey, Mass., Kate Dike Blair and her husband David Bear and their sons, Samuel and Nathaniel of Concord, Mass. Dike was predeceased by his brother, Thomas S. Blair whose widow Phyllis lives in Williamstown, Mass. and Boynton Beach, Fla. By his request there will be neither calling hours nor remembrance ceremonies.
Contributions may be made, in his memory to: The Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association, 19 Elm St., Middlebury 05753 or to the Addison County Home Health and Hospice, P.O. Box 754, Middlebury 05753. Arrangements are under the direction of the Miller & Ketcham Funeral Home in Brandon.