By Steven Frank
For the past three decades many people knew Dr. George Blake as a storyteller, having founded the Durham Folklore Society, however, when one looks back at the trajectory of his life, perhaps the greatest story of all is the one of George’s own life.
Born Buxton George Leopold Blake in 1922, George led a rather conventional village life in Green Island, Jamaica until at age 18 he enlisted and found himself on the RMS Queen Elizabeth heading to England to join the Royal Air Force. He was stationed on the home front as a meteorologist in northern Scotland. After the war, George, having turned down a university scholarship, decided to work as a government clerk in London. He grew restless feeling he had a higher calling and after reading a book on Buddhism, which told him he was responsible for his own mental, spiritual and psychological health, would study and eventually become ordained a samanera (novice monk) at the Sinhalese Centre in London. He received his full ordination as a Theravadan Buddhist Monk at the Wat Paknam Temple in Bangkok, Thailand in 1956.
George then decided it was time to work on a degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. He would find work in a mental health ward in London and eventually return to Scotland to train in clinical psychology at the University of Glasgow where he became renowned for treating alcoholism. One can’t help but think that his Buddhist teachings informed his successful behaviour therapy techniques helping patients overcome habits and fears.
In 1966 a married George moved to Whitby, Ontario by invitation of York University in Toronto to teach and this led to his work at the Whitby Psychiatric Hospital (now Ontario Shores). This in turn would lead to his founding of the Pinewood Centre for Addiction in Oshawa and the Alexandra Clinic at the Oshawa General Hospital.
Upon ‘retirement’, George returned to his Buddhist studies and even taught courses on Buddhist meditation. Always a great raconteur, George founded the Durham Folklore Society, which continues to celebrate the oral tradition of storytelling nearly three decades later. (They are now known as the Durham Storytellers.) He was an accomplished drummer and drum maker and combined his African/Caribbean stories with the Buddhist legends he learned known as Jataka Tales in another ensemble known as Kalalu Folklore Theatre.
The storytelling and music would all come together and George shared his many talents at various venues including schools, libraries, Durham Art Fest and festivals across Canada including Toronto’s Festival of Storytelling Listen Up!
George was also an author and wrote The Legend of Harriet Tubman; Kaipora Cove; A Buddhist Approach to Managing Stage Fright; A Buddhist Odyssey (A Manual on Meditation) and Bypassing Ego: The Buddhist Way.
George leaves two sons and two grandchildren and a unique legacy as a man who saw life as a journey and a quest for inner harmony and delighted in sharing his stories and wisdom with the world. In 2014 he received the African Canadian Lifetime Achievement Award.
This article first appeared as the text in a display about Blake at the Whitby Station Gallery.