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Alvin Lee Block, physician and Wine Train supporter, dies

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Many in Napa Valley are mourning the passing of Dr. Alvin Lee Block, an arts enthusiast, author and longtime internist who is credited with modernizing medicine at Queen of the Valley Medical Center.

Mayor Jill Techel on Monday called Block a man who “got involved in community life and community decisions.” She said that his support of the flood control project helped shape the future of the Napa River.

“Dr. Block also was an arts supporter who was constantly looking at ways that we could increase the art presence in Napa,” she said. “He felt art could contribute to the vibrancy of Napa – I would say he was right on.”

Known affectionately as “Lee,” Block died on Thursday, May 8, after a seven-year battle with myelodysplasia syndrome – a type of cancer that affects the body’s bone marrow. He was 84 years old.

“He never complained; he was never angry about it,” said Moira Johnston Block, a well-known Napa author who was married to Block until he died. “I wasn’t expecting this fine, strong man who had started the Wine Train and written a book and contributed so much, to pass away. He was a great physician who handled his own disease with grace. He was beautiful to be with – even in his late stage pain and weakness.”

Block was born on Sept. 23, 1929 in Orlando, Florida. He received his medical degree from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta and later preformed his residency at the University of California, San Francisco.

Block moved to Napa in 1960 to start his own medical practice, which later became a partnership with his younger brother, Rodney Block.

“They brought specialized medicine to an area that had almost none,” said Johnston Block. “They were truly everyone’s doctors and will never be forgotten because they helped so many families. ”

Throughout his life, Block rallied for the arts in Napa County. He was involved in the planning and implementation of the Community Cultural Plan for Napa County from 2005 to 2007 and was appointed to the Napa County Commission for Arts and Culture in 2008 by the Napa City Council. He served for two years as the board’s inaugural chairman.

“Napa County has lost an esteemed ambassador of the arts,” said Diane Dame Shepp, a community arts advocate who knew Block for about 30 years. “By patiently and persistently balancing realism with his vision of Napa County as a world destination for arts and culture, he eloquently gave voice to the future. To say he will be missed doesn’t come close to reality.”

Kristina Young, manager of the Grand Hand Gallery on Main Street, worked with Block on the arts council and the arts commission.

“He had an incredible amount of passion, and he really believed that everyone had a responsibility to give back,” she said. “He was an amazing example of that.”

As late as 2012, Block remained on the county’s arts commission and volunteered at the Napa State Hospital. He stopped his volunteer and medical work only when his health forced him to slow down, said Johnston Block.

“He continued to go to Napa State Hospital every Thursday for years,” she said. “I was nervous because I knew he wasn’t as well as he had been, but he insisted he was fine and continued to help people as long as he could.”

“My father was dedicated to the Napa community in every way,” said his son Kevin Block, a Napa attorney. “First, he helped turn Queen of the Valley Hospital into the modern medical center it is. Then, in the later stages of his life, he launched the Wine Train. In more recent years, he supported the arts with time, money and passion. Those were the things he moved and cared about most, in addition to his family.”

In 2011, at the age of 81, Block wrote a book about the early efforts by him and four other people to launch the Napa Valley Wine Train. Titled “A Dragon Is in the Valley,” Block’s book chronicled the difficulties his unlikely and unschooled band of train advocates encountered – everything from lack of money to lack of support.

Bernhard Krevet, president of Friends of the Napa River, met Block more than a decade ago. He fondly remembered Block as a man able to bring people together.

“In many ways, I remember him as a quiet person. He wouldn’t jump to the front and take over, which would have been impossible, being married to someone like Moira,” he said, jokingly. “They were a wonderful combination of different people who shared similar interests. And Lee was one of the most wonderful people I have ever met.”

Block is survived by Johnston Block and his three sons, Kevin Block, Gregory Block and Bill Block; his step-children, Christie Johnston and Don Johnston; his brother, Rodney Block; his first wife, Ina Block, and his six grandchildren.


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