By Mike Madera
Special to the Voice
The local area has lost an icon.
Legendary West Haven figure Thomas “Tinker” Blake succumbed to his battle with Multiple Systems Atrophy Friday afternoon with his family by his side. Blake was 60.
Blake, who was diagnosed with MSA in 2013, fought valiantly for four years and was in good spirits as late as last week.
“Tinker was my go-to guy for so many years,” West Haven athletic director Jon Capone said. “He helped in so many ways behind the scenes to make the athletic department run smooth. Many times I would run things by him before making a final decision. He always had great advice. However, what I will remember most about him was his loyalty and commitment to his family and community.”
MSA is a rare, progressive neurodegenerative disorder characterized by a combination of symptoms which affect both the autonomic nervous system and movement.
Blake, also known as the “Voice of West Haven,” started having issues in May of 2012. After going through months of tests, Blake was diagnosed with MSA in November of 2013.
The community rallied behind the ever popular Blake with several fundraisers, including the West Haven Youth Hockey Association benefit game in honor of Blake in 2015. At Blake’s request, all proceeds went towards funding the research of Multiple Systems Atrophy.
“My father is an amazing person,” Blake’s eldest daughter Erin said at the time of the fundraiser. “He is the strongest person I know. He has been overwhelmed by this support. The support of everyone has been overwhelming. It is amazing to think of all the people who are rallying behind my dad and this disease. For all these Westies and everyone to show support for my dad has been great.”
Blake was an active member of the West Haven community for many years. He was a former coach and board member for the West Haven Youth Hockey Association, as well as the president of the West Haven High School Penalty Box Club, which is the parent group supporting the West Haven High School hockey team.
Blake was a popular public figure, serving in various capacities throughout his life. While he was a long-time employee of SNET and AT&T (1979-2008), and the Executive Assistant to the Mayor of West Haven (2012-2013), he will be most fondly remembered for his tireless work in the community.
“Some people you just call great guys,” long-time radio personality and friend of Blake’s for close to six decades George DeMaio said. “That would be Tinker Blake. He loved West Haven and he was all about West Haven. He would do anything for you. He was one of the truly great guys, and he was one of the nicest guys you will ever meet.”
In a touching ceremony in May of 2016 prior to a softball game against Hamden, the press box of West Haven’s Frank Biondi Field was named in Blake’s honor. The softball team went on to defeat Hamden that night with the Blake family in attendance to qualify for the postseason.
“To have my name included at the complex with the names Frank Fitzgerald, Ken Strong, Whitey Piurek, Frank Biondi and Joe McHugh is a great thrill,” a touched Blake said at the time. “They are all great Westie icons. This is something I would have never imagined. It is a huge honor. I am totally humbled by it.”
Blake was a long-time master of ceremonies for the West Haven High School softball, football, girls and boys lacrosse, girls soccer, girls hockey, and West Haven Hall of Fame banquets, past president of the West Haven Penalty Box Club, former vice president and coach of the West Haven Little League, former Board of Director and coach for West Haven Youth Hockey, Board of Director and dinner chairman for the Jimmy Fund and West Haven Twilight League, co-chairman of the Savin Rock Festival, and Founder and past president of the West Haven Football Alumni Association.
Blake, who also served as a coach in the West Haven Girls Basketball League and West Haven Pop Warner football, along with being an assistant football coach at West Haven High, and assistant softball coach at Albertus Magnus College, was also on the West Haven Hall of Fame committee.
Ironically enough, Blake was recently nominated to be inducted into the West Haven Hall of Fame in November of this year.
“He was just a great guy,” long-time friend and West Haven’s Recreation Program Director Tom Conroy said of Blake. “He is a great Westie. Obviously, he and (wife) Maureen go hand in hand. They are all about West Haven, especially with the kids. He was just a great guy. He would do anything for you.”
A 1974 graduate of West Haven, Blake went on to get his Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice from the University of New Haven in 1978.
Blake received numerous awards throughout his decorated career, including the Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance Good Sport Award, the West Haven High School PTA Unsung Hero, West Haven Twilight League Community Service Award, West Haven Twilight League Program Book Award, Jimmy Fund Award, and the West Haven Football Alumni Association Edward L. Bennett Award for Community Service. Blake was also part of the New Haven Gridiron Club Hall of Fame.
Blake leaves behind his wife of 37 years, Maureen, their three children, Kevin, Erin, and Brittany, son-in-law Mike Bova, and grandson, Blake.
Services for Blake are held today at Our Lady of Victory Church.