BLOCK, SEYMOUR S., 96
Gainesville - Seymour S. Block, 96, the longest serving professor in the State of Florida University System, passed away on August 11. Block graduated with a Ph.D. from Penn State University in 1942, then the youngest person to earn a doctorate in the chemistry department. After serving as a research chemist during World War II, he came to the UF in 1944, intending to stay for only a few years, but he found in the university a natural fit for his extraordinarily wide-ranging interests.
A research chemist, his early work with mushrooms led to his developing a process for growing mushrooms in waste sawdust, and he was responsible for the introduction of the oyster mushroom that is now sold in grocery stores worldwide. Later, he studied disinfectant and sterilizing agents and was the editor-in-chief of five editions of the book Disinfection, Sterilization, and Preservation that was considered the bible of the field. He consulted with government and business, and held many patents. Officially retired from the University of Florida in 1995, he continued to go his office daily until two months before his death.
Block was an early environmentalist, teaching the UF's first environmental studies course and serving as one of the leaders of the university's first Earth Day. He was active in the Sierra Club, the Florida Defenders of the Environment and Zero Population Growth. But it was his longstanding fascination with Benjamin Franklin for which many people in Gainesville knew him best. A Franklin scholar, Block wrote three books on Franklin,whose lively curiosity and enjoyment of science, politics, and culture mirrored Block's own. His daughters recall that no matter what the topic at the dinner table, their Dad was able to connect it to Benjamin Franklin. Block's most recent book, written with Santiago Tavares, examines mathematical puzzles known as Magic Squares, which were a pastime of Franklin's. At the time of his death, Block had completed a second book that examined Franklin's engagement with Magic Squares.
Block was an active citizen, taking on leadership roles at the University of Florida, in Gainesville, and professionally. When Florida Senator Charlie Johns attacked the University for harboring Communists and homosexuals, Block helped to found the Florida and the UF chapters of the AAUP to safeguard academic freedom, and he served as the first president of both chapters. He was one of the founders of the Civic Action Association in Gainesville in the 1960s, organized to reform Gainesville government, and was president of the Citizens Commission on Planning and Zoning and chairman of the Gainesville Bikeways Commission. He was a charter member and treasurer of the Society of Industrial Microbiology. He was also a member of the Florida chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, as well as the longest serving member of the UF's Athenaeum Club where he was known for his lively and humorous talks on many subjects. In April 2014, he gave a talk on the composer Irving Berlin, whose life and music he had recently studied.
Block took full advantage of the UF athletic facilities throughout his life. He and his wife Gertrude played tennis on the UF tennis courts, and he took diving lessons at the UF pool. Well into his 80s, he was doing back flips off the high dive, and used to laugh that his diving never got any better, but the older he got, the more people praised him for his skill.
As much as he enjoyed his work, Block's true love was his family. He was married to his beloved wife Gertrude, Lecture Emerita at the UF Law School, for 72 years and spoke often of how blessed he was to have found his perfect partner in life. He delighted in spending time with his daughters and their husbands, four grandchildren, and two great-granddaughters. Block is survived by his wife Gertrude Hecht Block; daughters and sons-in-law Sally and Jerry Stein of Gainesville and Judy and Ted McLaughlin of Needham, MA; grandchildren Katherine Subhani and husband Noman Subhani of Orlando, Frances Eggleston of Gainesville, Kerry McLaughlin of San Francisco, and Peter McLaughlin of Portland, ME; and great-grandchildren Andaleesa Eggleston and Maya Subhani.
The family is very grateful to the doctors and nurses at the UF Shands Hospital, especially Dr. Heather Harrell, Dr. R. David Anderson, Dr. John W. Petersen, Dr. C. Richard Conti, and the Oak Hammock Skilled Nursing for their medical care and personal kindness shown their father and family.
A memorial service to celebrate Seymour Block's life will be held at the UF Chemical Engineering Department, 1006 Center Drive, on Friday, September 5, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. Please visit his memorial page at
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Published by Gainesville Sun from Aug. 14 to Aug. 15, 2014.