Joe Blair cut a frail figure, but to University of Maryland athletes, he was as big a legend as Curley Byrd or Jim Kehoe.
Blair, 72, died yesterday in Pittsburgh of complications from a stroke he suffered Oct. 27. The sports information director when the Terps football team enjoyed its greatest moments in the 1950s, Blair was the publicist for the Washington Redskins from 1962 to 1983, when he returned to Maryland.
Three weeks ago, Blair was still arranging interviews with Terps football players. He became ill on the Terps' charter flight to Louisville, and remained hospitalized there until Monday, when he was transferred by air ambulance to Allegheny General Hospital.
Blair normally could be seen with a Pall Mall in one hand and a Styrofoam cup filled with coffee in the other. He preferred bow ties, and for his name to be spelled lower case, i.e., joe f. blair. When a name slipped his mind, that person became "doohickey," but he never forgot his football or lacrosse players.
"You don't become an All-American without a guy like Joe Blair behind you," said Jack Scarbath, who was second in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1952. "Those were very good days for Maryland, and Joe was a very big part of it."
Blair was a bachelor, but Scarbath said he had a large extended family that included many athletes who named their children after him. Scarbath mentioned another Terp, Dick Shiner, and former Redskin Pat Richter.
"I've heard that 18 of us have done that," Scarbath said. "We named our second son John Blair in 1958, but he's always gone by Blair. Joe was a member of the family."
A native of Freeport, Pa., Blair was a gunner for the U.S. Army Air Corps in the South Pacific during World War II. He attended Pitt and Missouri on the G.I. Bill, and was hired as Maryland's sports information director in 1950.
When Blair returned to Maryland from the Redskins, it was as an assistant to Jack Zane, one of his student helpers in the 1950s. Blair was named Football Publicist Emeritus in 1988, and in 1991 the third floor of the new Byrd Stadium press box was named the "Blair-Zane Media Work Area."
There will be a viewing at the Ruskiewicz Funeral Home in Lower Burrell, Pa., tomorrow, and funeral services will be held Saturday at 10 a.m. at St. Margaret Mary Cathedral. A memorial service will be held at Maryland's Memorial Chapel Nov. 30, at a time to be announced. In lieu of flowers, Blair's family requests donations to the Joe Blair Scholarship Fund; Maryland Educational Fund; P.O. Box 295, College Park, Md. 20741.