Ralph Erskine Blakely, Jr. ’67

Ralph Erskine Blakely, Jr. died of lymphoma on August 31, 2023 in Mount Pleasant, SC. Ralph was born on May 7, 1945, in Rock Hill, SC to Ralph Erskine Blakely and Ollie Mae Freeman Blakely.

Ralph grew up in Rock Hill in a close-knit family. From childhood he was fascinated by the sounds and structure of pipe organs. At nursery school he amazed the staff by building an organ from blocks, which he “played” with panache; at church he refused to leave the sanctuary until the last notes of the postlude had sounded.

He attended Winthrop Training School and graduated from Rock Hill High School. He received the BA from Davidson College, where he majored in Music and Classics. After a brief period of graduate study in organ, he apprenticed himself to an organbuilder in Charlotte, NC. He then founded Blakely Organbuilders on Depot Street in Davidson, which built and maintained pipe organs in the Southeast, from Georgia to Virginia.

Following their retirement, he and his partner, Wilmer Hayden Welsh, the Davidson Chapel organist and professor of music, moved in 1994 to Tradd Street in Charleston. There Ralph became a keen supporter of the Gibbes Museum of Art, where he served on the Board of Directors; he was also a member of the Board of Directors of the Storm Eye Institute and an active supporter of Davidson College. In downtown Charleston he was a familiar figure as he walked his Great Dane. After Bill’s death in 2008, Ralph revived his interest in Greek and translated Homer’s Iliad into English prose as a memorial to him; it was published in 2015 by Forge Press. In 2021, he moved to South Bay in Mount Pleasant, SC and in 2022 to the Shem Creek Health Center at South Bay.

Ralph is survived by his sisters, Mary Blakely Speer (Eugene Speer) of Cranbury, NJ and Jennie Blakely Benton (Douglas Benton) of Church Hill, TN; one nephew, David Benton; a great-niece, Bailee Benton and a great-nephew, Waylon Benton, all of Church Hill. The family is grateful to Paula Singleton for her devoted care of Ralph in these last months. Burial will be private. Memorials may be sent to the Storm Eye Institute of the Medical University of South Carolina (www.fundraise.musc.edu) or to Davidson College (https://davidson.edu/makeagift).