McCrabb: He was a pro football player, business owner and public servant. It’s time to honor this Middletown legend.

If Middletown had a Mount Rushmore, there are obvious candidates.

William “Bill” Akers, Wilbur Cohen, Daniel Doty, Paul J. Sorg, and George M. Verity would top that list. Thomas Blake wouldn’t be far behind those Middletown legends.

Blake, a 1945 Middletown High School graduate, returned to his hometown roots after a short professional football career, founded Blake Steel in 1965, served three terms on Middletown City Commission and chaired the commission from 1976-1981 and volunteered on numerous boards.

Thomas Clinton Blake made Middletown better.

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Rick Pearce, president of the Chamber of Commerce serving Middletown, Monroe and Trenton, said Blake “embodies the principles of giving his all to his community.”

Last week, Blake, 91, became the third recipient of the Richard W. Slagle Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award, joining Slagle in 2014 and Cohen in 2015. During the chamber’s annual meeting at Miami Valley Gaming in Monroe, Blake, accompanied by his wife of 72 years, Gwyn, grandchildren and friends, was recognized for his achievements.

One of his granddaughters, Courtney Killin, 35, of Middletown, said her grandfather, through his actions, instilled the importance of compassion and dedication and being generous with your time and money.

She called him “the perfect role model.”

Thousands of words have been used to describe Blake — some from his business competitors and those who lost to him at Gin probably not suited for a family newspaper — but “the perfect role model” best illustrates what Blake has meant to his family and community.

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Pearce said many leaders of Blake’s generation owned their businesses and felt “a need to progress” their community in various ways.

“Each of them gave scores of years to growing their business and bettering the communities in which they lived,” Pearce said.

Now, he wonders, who will be the next several generations to get involved and follow in the steps of these “giants and blaze new trails” to take the community to new heights.

After high school, Blake, an offensive tackle, attended the University of Tennessee and graduated in 1949 from the University of Cincinnati, which inducted him into its Athletic Hall of Fame in 1998.

He played for the New York Bulldogs professional football team, and he’s one of the oldest living professional football players.

No one outside his family probably knows Blake better than Dennis Vitori, who after a 30-year business association still meets Blake once a week for lunch. They have been friends for 50 years.

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Vitori said he appreciates how Blake ran his businesses and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. If you wanted his opinion, all you had to do was ask, Vitori said.

“A very savvy businessman,” is how Vitori described Blake. “If I needed advice to help solve a problem, I asked T.B. I’m a better business person for knowing T.B. for the last 50 years.”

Blake was a hands-on owner. He wanted to meet his clients, or as Vitori called it, “Press the fresh.”

That business sense afforded Blake the opportunity to enjoy what he loved — playing golf and watching NFL games. Blake has owned Cincinnati Bengals season tickets since the team was founded in 1968, and he attended both of Cincinnati’s Super Bowls, losses to the San Francisco 49ers in 1982 and 1989.

Blake has taken Vitori to more than 25 Super Bowls. Vitori called the 1997 Super Bowl “one of the most memorable” and it had nothing to do with what happened on the field between Green Bay and New England. As they were walking to the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Vitori had his hands in his pockets protecting his cash, and more importantly, the two Super Bowl tickets.

Vitori estimates 5,000 people were being crushed as they walked up a concrete ramp toward the Superdome and as he reached into his pocket, the tickets were gone. Stolen that quick. Vitori finally caught up with Blake and told him the bad news.

Blake walked to the will call window and explained to the teller that someone had stolen their tickets. He was the hundredth person to use that excuse. Sorry about your luck, he was told. Enjoy Bourbon Street.

Then Blake flashed his NFL Alumni credential. Just then, the woman said, two tickets from the Patriots were returned and Blake could buy them at face value.

“That tells you a lot about Tom Blake,” Vitori said. “I was going crazy. I mean we had been there for days, and now we weren’t going to see the Super Bowl. But Tom didn’t get phased. He didn’t that day and he doesn’t today.”

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