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Jim was born to Melvin Block and Anita Wangrowe Block in 1937, and grew up in New York City. He graduated from Dartmouth College, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1959, and joined the family business, Block Drug Company, shortly thereafter. Jim’s grandfather, Alexander Block, a Lithuanian Jew who had immigrated to the United States alone at the age of 12, started a company in Brooklyn, NY, as a small wholesale business; it later became an international consumer dental and packaged goods company whose brands included Sensodyne, Polident and Nytol. Jim held various positions at Block Drug Company starting in 1959, including serving as Chairman of the Board from 1988 to 2001, when the company was purchased by GlaxoSmithKline.
Jim spent much time and energy working to make the world a better place. He served on the board of The Associated Y’s of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropy. He also served on the board of Columbia University’s School of Social Work, the Hexter and Block Vacation Center for Senior Citizens, The Dalton School, and The US Fund for Unicef. He was an overseer at the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College, and a member of the Board of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC and the Heye Center in New York City. Jim was honored by the Smithsonian Institution in appreciation for his service and dedication to the NMAI. He was named a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Jim always lived in Manhattan, and was a true New Yorker, spending his free time in museums, concert halls and theaters. He married Barbara Heller in 1960; they would have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in June of 2020. His friends and family appreciated his keen intelligence, his delightful sense of humor and dry wit. His favorite pastimes included crosswords and reading; he had an encyclopedic knowledge of geography, art and history. He is survived by his wife, Barbara; his sister, Susan Stearns; his daughter, Valerie Block, and her husband Alexis Romay; his son, Peter Block, and his wife Judith Klugman; and three grandchildren. He is sorely missed.
Memorial donations may be made in Jim’s name to New York Presbyterian Hospital COVID-19 Fund.