category: Faculty Emeriti - In Memory Of

Robert R. Blackburn

Professor Emeritus of Health Education

Dr. Robert R. Blackburn (1932-2019), a retired college professor and administrator, was born in Mooresboro, N.C., to Reid and Kate Blackburn. After graduating from Mooresboro High School (1950), he attended Gardner-Webb; he completed his Bachelor of Science degree in health and physical education at Erskine College in 1954, where he received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award. Throughout his undergraduate career, he earned nine letters in athletics for his performances in basketball, baseball, and football. He served two years in the U.S. Army; he then began his teaching career at Walhalla High School in Walhalla, S.C.  

He returned to Gardner-Webb in 1958 as an assistant professor in the Department of Health and Physical Education, head basketball coach, line coach for football, and head track coach, while also completing a Master of Arts degree in 1968 at George Peabody College in Nashville, Tenn. He then moved to Louisiana College, where he chaired the Department of Health and Physical Education (1963-1969); he also completed the Doctor of Education degree in Health and Physical Education in 1969 at George Peabody College. He returned to teach at Gardner-Webb in 1969. 

Blackburn was a professor for 24 years at GWU; he chaired the Department of Health and Physical Education for 19 years prior to his retirement in 1996. His key accomplishments during his tenure at Gardner-Webb included launching the undergraduate major in health and physical education, developing a graduate program in health and physical education, which at that time included five off-campus clusters throughout North Carolina, and coordinating the building plans for the Lutz-Yelton Convocation Center on campus. He also served on multiple committees at the institution, including the Teacher Education Committee and the Educational Policy Committee; he chaired the Library Committee, the Professional Affairs Committee, and the Graduate Council. 

Blackburn coordinated swimming pool operations and community swimming lessons, a program that grew from 100 children per year to over 1,000 children and adults each summer. “The Shelby Star” celebrated the landmark accomplishment of 2,000 swimmers trained at Gardner-Webb by profiling Blackburn’s work with the Red Cross and the swimming program. 

For three years (1975-1978), he coordinated and led 30 workshops held at Gardner-Webb on Life Skills for Health for every teacher in the Cleveland County, Shelby City, and Kings Mountain City school systems involving over 500 teachers. He also developed and coordinated the North Carolina Heart Health Training Center on campus in 1984.  

During the latter years of his tenure at Gardner-Webb, he served as the part-time executive director of the N.C. Alliance for Athletics, Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance. When he retired from Gardner-Webb in 1996, he accepted the position on a full-time basis (1996-2000). 

Throughout his career, Blackburn was active in various professional organizations, particularly the state, district and national Alliances for Athletics, Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance. His participation in these associations included multiple presentations at the state, regional, and national levels. His strong vision and leadership skills were evident in the depth and breadth of committee appointments and elected leadership positions. He was a member of the Board of Directors for the North Carolina affiliate of the American Heart Association (1990-1994); he served as chairman of the Board of Directors in 1991. He was appointed to three different state committees by three different governors. Nationally, from 1992-1994, he served on the Secretary’s Council of Health Promotion and Disease for the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Blackburn was recognized for his work and dedication to health education through multiple awards, including the American Association for Health Education Presidential Citation (1982) and many honors and awards from the N.C. American Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance. In 2003, he was inaugurated into the North American Society for Health and Physical Education, which recognizes outstanding health and physical education leaders in the United States. In 2008, the American Heart Association honored him by presenting him with the first award named for him in recognition of his years of outstanding service to the organization.  

After retirement, he was on the Cleveland County Board of Health for several years, and he served as chair. He also served as president of the Association of N.C. Boards of Health (ANCBH) and received the Robert “Ed” Strother Partnership Award in 2010. In 2013 he was president of the National Association Local Boards of Health (NALBOH) and received the Hageman Award as the National Outstanding Board of Health Member. He was also a member of the N.C. Local Public Health Accreditation Board. 

He was married to the former Rose Creswell. They made their home in Boiling Springs and had three daughters: Barbara, Becky, and Brenda; all three are Gardner-Webb graduates. Blackburn focused his time on advocacy efforts, including presenting on the topic at the local, state, and national levels. He served as chair of both the Advocacy Committee for the North Carolina affiliate of the American Heart Association and the Cleveland County Task Force on Obesity in Children. An ordained deacon, he continued his longtime voluntary service at Boiling Springs Baptist Church, which included a 10-year role as director of Sunday school, chair of various committees, and Sunday school teacher. 

Blackburn enjoyed playing golf, watching sports, pin collecting (particularly Olympic pins), and spending time with his family. Dr. Blackburn passed away on November 28, 2019, at the age of 86.  

Source: Personal Interview—Barbara Blackburn  

Updated: September 2014—Bob Blackburn 

Updated: Jackie Bridges and Noel T. Manning II, 2022 

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