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After 41 years of public service collecting, preserving and sharing history, Dr. Bob Blackburn will retire from the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS) on January 15, 2021, at the age of 69.
“Announcing my retirement plans now will give the society’s board of directors time to conduct a thorough search for my replacement and orchestrate a smooth transition,” said Blackburn.
“I still enjoy my job and I have lost none of my passion for collecting and sharing Oklahoma history, but it is the right time for a change.”
Jack Baker, president of the OHS Board of Directors, said board members were reluctant to accept Dr. Bob’s retirement request, but they respected his opinion on timing and the process of finding a successor.
“Bob has been transformative for the Oklahoma Historical Society,” said Baker. “Fortunately for us, one of his accomplishments is a great, creative staff with senior leadership recognized across the country. His legacy will carry on through their good work.”
Blackburn began his career with the OHS in 1979 after he completed his Ph.D. in history from Oklahoma State University. His first job was editor of The Chronicles of Oklahoma, the society’s scholarly publication.
Ten years later, he was named deputy executive director, an opportunity he credits with preparing him to tackle the challenges of leading an organization with great potential through an era of change.
While he was developing his leadership skills, Blackburn added to his historical skills by writing books and articles, giving more than 100 speeches a year and appearing constantly in the press as a source of historical information. He recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame.
In 1999 Blackburn was named executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society. He emphasized a new focus on what he called an “entrepreneurial business plan” that embraced higher standards, greater efficiencies and partnerships.
The outcome has been a string of new programs and projects that appeal to donors, generate a stream of revenue and attract high-performing employees.
All of Blackburn’s leadership and historical skills were needed to guide the planning, funding and construction of the Oklahoma History Center, a $62 million investment that is now an affiliate of both the Smithsonian Institution and the National Archives, the only institution in the country with that status.
“I may be retiring from one job,” added Blackburn, “but I will still be a historian writing books and I will still be a proud Oklahoman who is constantly learning about who we are and where we have come from. My learning curve is still on the upswing and I know the OHS will be in good hands.”