A tribute written by Jack Levine, 4Generations Institute

It is with great sadness that I learned that Dr. Wil Blechman, a beloved friend and advocacy ally, passed away September 15th, at age 89.

Throughout my 40-plus year career as an advocate for children, I have had the honor and privilege to meet a significant number of passionate and persuasive people who are both headstrong and heartfelt in their focus on improving the lives of our youngest family members.

With no hesitation, I consider Dr. Wil Blechman to be at the top of the list of advocates whose keen intelligence, powerful influence and loving leadership have made a profound difference that will extend for generations.

Most remarkably, Dr. Blechman’s medical training and decades-long clinical practice were in specialties which had almost no relation to pediatrics or early childhood disease or distress.

His medical career focused on rheumatology …the treatment of what we usually consider ailments of the old: arthritis, rheumatic inflammation and the “aches and pains” almost always associated with advanced aging.

As Dr. Wil told the story, during an office visit by one of his patients, the subject of young children popped up…the context simply in answer to that very common “So, how are the grandchildren doing?” In that conversation, the patient’s reply was a sad “To tell you the truth, Doc…not so good.”

As a man of compassion and curiosity, Dr. Blechman begged for a bit more information, to which the patient told of some troubling learning problems exhibited by her 4-year-old grandson.

One question led to another and before the arthritis treatment was concluded, a match was lit in Dr.  Blechman which ignited a remarkable wildfire of passionate advocacy.

“How is it,” he asked himself, “that he knew so much about the later stages of the life cycle, but relatively little about the first stages of life?:

Of course, as a father and grandfather, he felt love and devotion for his progeny….but what about “those other little ones” who populate a world about which he had  neither knowledge nor know how.

To paint the picture more clearly, it must now be revealed that Dr. Wil’s wife, Rachel, now a retired attorney, has quite a resume in the academic study of children. As a Cornell University undergraduate, Rachel learned under the considerable influence of Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner, the esteemed child development psychologist, whose theories of the vital importance of the early days, months and years of life provided meaningful guideposts to stages of emotional and educational futures that lasted a lifetime.

Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner coined the phrase “A Community of Caring” to explain the essential role we all play in providing children a safe and sustaining environment for them to survive and thrive.

So, while well influenced by in Rachel’s interests in young children, it took that one conversation with an arthritic grandmother to lead Dr. Blechman on a new fruitful journey of discovery which consumed his final 35 years of life.

After announcing his retirement and closing his North Miami Beach rheumatology practice (I assure you not for the lack of patient demand in a locale replete with aching elders!), Dr. Blechman launched a learning experience fueled by his passionate pursuit to answer one foundational question: ”Do young children deserve life experiences which promote their proper development….both physically and emotionally….and if so, what can a middle-aged physician do to make a difference for a new generation of children in need?”

To build on a cliche…”Where there’s a Wil…there’s a way!”

Wil’s passions led him to Kiwanis International, ascending through the ranks of the organization culminating in his election as International President. In that role, with Rachel by his side, Dr. Wil launched the signature program “Young Children: Priority One” to bring attention to the vital early years and their impact on later life stages.

The Blechman’s traveled the world sharing their passions for investments in children through the Kiwanis network of civic-minded volunteers, lighting the flame of service in a wide variety of community projects.

Quite literally, a day did not pass when Wil did not engage in conversation with a phenomenal diversity of allies…all the time recruiting new advocates to the cause.

“When it comes to children, it’s not whether we pay, it’s when.”, was among Dr. Wil’s key messages. “How dare we pay for failure when we have the ability to invest in Success?’

In honor of Dr. Wil Blechman’s loving legacy, his family has requested that memorial donations be made to: Wil and Rachel Blechman Fund of the Florida Kiwanis Foundation.

 

This Top Story brought to you by Jack Levine, 4Generations Institute.

After a 25-year tenure as president of Voices for Florida’s Children, a statewide advocacy network, Jack founded 4Generations Institute to promote intergenerational policies and innovative programs that benefit the young, their parents, and more experienced family members…also known as grandparents.

In addition, Jack is President of Advocacy Resources, a consultancy specializing in communications strategies, public policy initiatives, and creative resource development. He holds a Master’s degree in Child Development and Family Studies from Purdue University and an undergraduate degree in English Literature from Hunter College, City University of New York.