Commemorative portrait of David Blackwell unveiled in Blackwell residence hall

Doug Smith/Staff

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A portrait of former campus statistics professor David Blackwell was unveiled Wednesday at David Blackwell Hall. The portrait was commissioned and donated by one of Blackwell’s former students, Richard Davis.

The portrait was unveiled by Davis and Hugo Blackwell, David Blackwell’s seventh child. Mounted beside the portrait is a plaque with information about David Blackwell’s background and history as a statistician.

David Blackwell was an “excellent teacher,” according to Davis, who said he decided to donate the portrait after reading about the residence hall in California Magazine. He later visited the residence hall himself and found that there was nothing to commemorate the person the building was named after.

“He could take a problem and not miss a step, and I think that’s a very unique talent that many teachers don’t have,” Davis said. “I needed that clarity, but beyond the clarity and his teaching ability, his character stood out — that’s what I admired.”

Davis said he supports “cultural exchanges” between the United States and Mexico and, through that, met Miguel Diaz Guerrero — an oil painter whom he commissioned for the portrait. Davis also said the accompanying biography of David Blackwell was taken from the internet and modified.

Deborah James, a longtime friend of the Blackwell family, said the portrait is “excellent” and “looks just like him.”

Jules Blackwell, David Blackwell’s grandson, said the donation is “a testament to the relationship he had with his students,” pointing out that Davis had to pick the painting up from Mexico to bring it to Berkeley.

Looking around the main study lounge in Blackwell Hall, Hugo Blackwell called attention to the many triangles involved in the room’s decorum. Triangles, Hugo Blackwell said, were his father’s favorite shape.

“Three was his favorite number, (and) triangles have three points,” Hugo Blackwell said. “It probably has something to do with geometry. … He would look at these equations and numbers, and look how they fall and say, ‘Look at that — that’s beautiful.’ ”

Hugo Blackwell said his father disliked small talk, saying he valued content-heavy conversations. He added that David Blackwell saw things as “black and white,” which made mathematics and numbers easy for him to deal with.

David Blackwell enjoyed building from ideas rather than leaving a material legacy, according to Hugo Blackwell, who also noted that his father enjoyed live classroom settings, saying “that was when it was happening.”

“He was not a showoff — he really was easily embarrassed. He didn’t like calling attention to himself,” Hugo Blackwell said. “It really … was about the subject. That’s what I think his legacy was.”

Contact Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SakuCannestra.