Lafayette

May 27, 2014 6:35 PM by Dave Fields

Community mourns loss of Horse Farm preservationist Griff Blakewood

Lafayette is mourning the loss of the man many credit with the preservation of the 100-acre Horse Farm property that is now being transformed into a multi-purposed, community park.

Eldred "Griff" Blakewood IV, 54, the much beloved University of Louisiana professor of geosciences, died Monday after a year-long bout with cancer.

Widely regarded for his activism in the field of renewable resources, Blakewood will be remembered by many as a mentor who provided those around him with passionate insight about life, and especially about the community. Affectionately known as "Griff" by those close to him, Blakewood arrived at UL in 1991, teaching the likes of such classes as Environmental Sustainability, Biosphere Systems, the Environment and the Spirit, Love and Friendship, and Sustainable Futures.

Elizabeth Brooks, Director of Planning & Design for Lafayette Central Park, said she will always regard Blakewood not only as "a mentor," but "a prophet."

"Griff was an incredible professor who touched the lives of so many students at UL, where he 'taught reality.' You couldn't find a student or friend that wouldn't tell you that Griff was someone special - enlightened and eloquent, passionate and persuasive. He was also revered in the community as an activist, a great friend, and a wonderful husband to Alice and two sons, Eldred and Harrison," explained Brooks, who added that Blakewood possessed a gift of communication that allowed him to elicit the cooperation of the great many in the community who loved to work closely with him, an ensemble Blakewood often called his "tribe."

Last Saturday, Brooks said that Blakewood was in attendance for his youngest son's graduation from Acadiana High School in the Cajundome. Brooks said that special accommodations were made to transport Blakewood to a Cajundome skybox so that he could be in attendance to witness his son's momentous accomplishment.

Brooks also noted Blakewood's efforts to promote other renewable resources within the community. Blakewood worked to establish the "Discovery Trail", which was designed to connect primary and secondary school educators with opportunities to teach hands-on science in a natural setting.

"Griff was instrumental in getting the bike culture in Lafayette to be mainstream. He could be seen on the streets riding his bike all over town, demanding to live by example. When he wasn't on his bike, he was in his purple hatchback with the canoe strapped on top of it, ready for a quick paddle at Lake Martin at the drop of a hat--which he did a lot," Brooks recalled.

Brooks expressed with confidence that Blakewood's "tribe members" would have no disagreement telling one another, "Everything I learned about life, I learned from Griff." Brooks said, in her case, she'd say "at least half" of what she learned "was from Griff in a canoe."

Brooks fondly tells the story of the origins of the Horse Farm. She said that Blakewood would attend meetings with the university president and would plead with him to preserve for future generations the 100-acre greenspace off Johnston Street.

At the time, Blakewood was the outspoken faculty advisor for the UL chapter of The Society for Peace, Environment, Action, and Knowledge (SPEAK), an organization that was the impetus for the university's recycling program.

Blakewood's sphere of influence within the university's then-Department of Renewable Resources had gained respect throughout Lafayette. Blakewood would even host bike repair workshops and would involve himself in environmental campaigns on local, state, and national levels. In 2005, Blakewood contracted, via SPEAK, to do all of the recycling for Festival Acadiens et Creoles.

Brooks explained that the $1,000 SPEAK earned from recycling at Festival Acadiens actually funded the beginning of efforts to save the Horse Farm.

"They paid us $1000 to do it, and this money was the seed money we used to get the Horse Farm campaign started. A few weeks after Festival, Griff came into his Community Based Planning class, of which Danica Adams and I were participants, and slapped down the newspaper that announced that the Horse Farm was slated for development. Danica, who had lived on the property for the previous year, and had been kicked out of the little white house on the front of the property without being given a reason, started crying and ran out of the classroom. I followed her to console her, and on the steps of Hamilton Hall, and we made a pact to do everything in our power to Save the Horse Farm," Brooks said.

According to Brooks, Blakewood's devoted tribe took his classroom instruction to heart...literally.

"Griff allowed us to make the Horse Farm our class project for the Community Based Planning class. There was a web-designer who immediately built savethehorsefarm.com. I used that $1,000 to buy 1,000 yard signs and 500 bumper stickers that said 'savethehorsefarm.com'. We started an online petition, got a Myspace and Facebook page going, launched a letter writing campaign, and none of it would have happened had it not been for Griff and his army of activist students willing to take on the world," remembers Brooks.

While Blakewood's lifelong attempts to promote future sustainability in Acadiana will be missed, his legacy will live on as future generations enjoy the new park at the Horse Farm or whenever cyclists pedal throughout the community.

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