Honoring the life of Chancellor Emeritus Joe Blake

Photos 2 & 4: PHOCO / All others: CSU Photography

Joe Blake, chancellor emeritus of the CSU System and long-time advocate for higher education in Colorado, passed away Feb. 15 at the age of 86.

“The Colorado State University System joins in honoring the life and legacy of our dear friend, Joe Blake,” Chancellor Tony Frank said in a statement. “Joe was the first full-time chancellor of our System, a tireless advocate for education, and one of the staunchest champions of our students and scholars. He was also a model of grace, goodwill, and good humor, whose love of language, passion for ideas, and commitment to this state and its people were unsurpassed. We are grateful to have had Joe on our team, and he remains in our hearts.”

Blake became an enthusiastic advocate for the CSU System and its campuses when former Gov. Bill Owens appointed him to serve on the Board of Governors in 2006. Blake became the System’s first full-time chancellor in 2009, a post he held until 2011. He continued to work for the System as chancellor emeritus and as a highly successful fundraiser for campus programs and scholarships up until he died.

Man in a dark sweater.
Photo: PHOCO

“The liberal arts have no boundaries and make life just so much more interesting. Your perspectives are broader and more diverse when you study these subjects. It’s all about curiosity and interest, and I do believe those elements find their wellspring in the liberal arts.”

– Joe Blake, chancellor emeritus, Colorado State University System

A high-profile son of Denver, Blake graduated from East High School and returned to his home state after earning his bachelor’s degree in English literature from Dartmouth College. He then attended law school at the University of Colorado and was part of the executive management team that led the development of Highlands Ranch south of Denver.

He worked for nearly a decade as president and chief executive officer of the influential Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, striving to diversify the regional economy and strengthen ties between business and civic leadership. Along the way, Blake helped bring Major League Baseball to Colorado and served on the boards of many philanthropic organizations. For his tireless work and community advocacy, Blake was inducted into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame in 2017.

Former Chair of the CSU System Board of Governors Doug Jones, a close friend of Blake’s, said he epitomized community leadership.

“He was always about community first and himself second, and he always found common ground with people. He had an amazing career – what he’s done and where he’s been,” said Jones, noting Blake’s early career as an FBI agent and legislative aide on Capitol Hill, his integral role in creating Highlands Ranch, and his leadership at the Chamber and the CSU System. “Somehow Joe Blake was always able to connect the dots with people, and it was because he genuinely loved humans, he loved people, and he loved Denver. Nobody loved this community more than Joe Blake, and he truly gave as his time, talent, and treasure. Everybody he touched, he left them with a smile, and I am honored, fortunate, and lucky to have spent so much time with him.”

In his System leadership roles, Blake helped shape policies that allowed the CSU System to successfully weather the Great Recession. Later, that groundwork helped the System’s campuses get through financial challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. He also developed a critical strategic plan for the System and supported the successful launch of CSU Global, the nation’s first fully online public university.

In his emeritus role, the former chancellor remained a champion of CSU’s land-grant mission in Colorado community engagement, economic development, and higher-education access and opportunities for students, including as chair of CSU’s Master of Tourism Management program.

“Joe Blake’s commitment to higher education made an incredible impact on all of the CSU System’s Universities. More importantly he improved the lives of our students and the citizens of Colorado. We are grateful for his leadership and grace,” said Kim Jordan, chair of the CSU System Board of Governors.

“Colorado State University is creating phenomenal citizens for a world that’s in desperate need of phenomenal citizens. To be with people who are inspired, aspirational, and committed, it’s a joy. It’s a joy, and I’m very fortunate to be able to do it.”

– Joe Blake, chancellor emeritus, Colorado State University System

A U.S history buff who acted in community theater, Blake ascribed his career success to a foundation in “the liberating arts,” a phrase he picked up from the president of his Ivy League alma mater during the 1950s. That love for the liberal arts as a fount of creativity, innovation, and ethics spurred him to make the largest gift in the history of CSU’s College of Liberal Arts: $5 million to recognize and elevate the college’s faculty and academic excellence. He also created the Blake Leadership Scholars program to support high-achieving students in developing their skills as critical thinkers so they could be well-prepared as future leaders and citizens.

CSU President Joyce McConnell said: “Joe Blake’s passion for people made him remarkable, and he believed so deeply in the people and the mission of Colorado State University. He made his mark in many areas in Colorado, but we are most fortunate that he was so focused on the transformative power of education. His legacy will continue to open doors for generations of students and support the transformational work of many extraordinary faculty members. Joe was a one-of-a-kind gem who just lit up any room, and we will miss him dearly.”

Coleman Cornelius and Tiana Kennedy contributed to this story.
Additional press coverage of Joe Blake can be found via The Denver Post, Denver Business Journal, and 9News.