Robert E. LeBlanc Memorial Fund
The Robert G. LeBlanc Memorial Fund is established at the University of New Hampshire Foundation, Inc., through the generosity of family and friends of Robert G. LeBlanc, Class of 1959 and Professor Emeritus of Geography. Bob was born on October 30, 1930, in a Franco-American neighborhood in Nashua. After graduating from Nashua High School in 1949, he enlisted in the Air Force, which allowed him to travel extensively. Upon completion of his tour of duty, he entered the University of New Hampshire, where he initially studied geology. While attending the University of Oslo Summer School in Oslo, Norway, in 1955, he worked on a glacier and then attended the University of London, in London, England. After spending two five-month tours with the Geophysics Research Directorate Terrestrial Sciences Division of the Air Force Cambridge Research Center in the summer of 1957 and the spring of 1958 as a research assistant on Ice Island T3 in the Arctic, he changed his major to history and graduated from UNH with a B.A. in 1959. He then pursued graduate studies at the University of Minnesota, specializing in historical geography, which, for him, was the synthesis of his interests in human cultures and their place in the physical world. Bob's master's thesis was on the Acadian migrations, and his doctoral dissertation looked at the development of manufacturing in New England in the 19th century. Bob joined the faculty at the University of New Hampshire in 1963 when the geography program was in its infancy and helped build the program. He remained active in research and teaching even after his official retirement in 1999, focusing his work on historical geography and Canadian studies and serving as an advisor in the Center for International Education at UNH. For 16 years, Bob was a UNH representative with Interhostel and shepherded groups to farflung corners of the globe. Travel was his passion and he availed himself of every opportunity to travel with fellow geographers, family, like-minded friends or on his own. He was active in a number of professional geographical and Franco-American organizations and was a founding member of the Eastern Historical Geography Association and an incorporator of the Franco-American Centre in Manchester, N.H. He received the Distinguished Service Award from the New England-St. Lawrence Valley Geographical Society in 1988.
Bob spent his life pursuing a better understanding of people and the reasons they lived where they lived, spoke the languages they spoke, ate the food that they ate, engaged in the livelihoods that they did, and believed what they believed. He was insatiably curious and open. He delighted in the variousness of cultures. He was respectful and did not judge or condemn. He was forever eager to visit foreign lands, speak with the people, taste the food, hear the music, and stand in the holy places to better know his fellow human beings.
Bob celebrated the wondrous diversity he found in the world...AND he shared this wonder and excitement and respect with his students, family, and friends. He made a distinction between being a "tourist" and being a "traveler and student of culture". He chose the latter and tried to impress upon others the relevance of this distinction. Bob believed that meeting other people on their own ground with a willingness to try to know and understand the problems they struggle with and the joys they celebrate makes our common humanity more obvious and undeniable. He was so very pleased when he kindled the spark in others and encouraged them to go off on their own journeys of discovery. Bob was committed to his family and encouraged and supported his wife and five children in every possible way. He was a happy, kind and generous human being who gave much more than he took.
Bob died as a result of the tragic terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, while on his way to a geography meeting. He was aboard United Airlines Flight 175. It is ironic that this gentle and curious man, who devoted his life to understanding the nations and tribes of the world, and who believed we should too, should be silenced by those who didn't even try. Besides the very sad and personal loss those who knew Bob feel, the whole world is a poorer place for Bob's absence. However, it is a far richer and kinder place because he lived and shared his enthusiastic love of this world with us. It is the wish of all those involved with this scholarship that we may all seek understanding, proceed with patience, teach tolerance, act compassionately, live with respect, celebrate life and choose happiness...as Bob did.