At 76, Robert Blok embraces being UF’s oldest graduate in the class of 2019

Robert BlokAge is nothing more than a number to Robert Blok. At 76, he earned his Master of Pharmacy in Science degree from the University of Florida College of Pharmacy — earning the distinction of being UF’s oldest graduate among more than 8,000 students in the class of 2019.

Blok and his wife, Kim, retired in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina two years ago. He has aspirations of running for Beaufort County coroner in 2020 and said earning a master’s degree with a concentration in forensic science will prepare him for the role.

“I wanted to be active in retirement and give back, so when I thought about being coroner, the forensic science degree made sense to me,” Blok said. “I wanted an online program that was well-established and had great faculty, and UF checked all the boxes for me.”

A military veteran and osteopathic medical physician, Blok served as an anesthesiologist in the Army for three decades. He served in Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s and made five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2004-13. In 2009, he was on patrol mission with soldiers when their military vehicle hit an improvised explosive device. The explosion rocked their Humvee and Blok suffered an eye injury that hospitalized him for several days. While in the hospital, he was visited by a U.S. Army major general who presented him with a Purple Heart — awarded for military merit to members of the U.S. armed forces who have been wounded or killed in combat while serving their country.

“I receive my Purple Heart at age 66,” Blok said. “At the time, the Army told me I was one of the oldest veterans to ever receive a Purple Heart.”

Blok credits his good health, active lifestyle and his quest for new knowledge with pushing him toward completing his master’s degree. The forensic science curriculum and topics were new to him, and he appreciated the challenge. Being an online student required him to set goals for two-and-a-half years and gave him motivation to get up in the morning. He takes pride in his 3.9 grade point average — with his only “B” grade coming in a statistics class.

An avid bicyclist, Blok participates in the Asphalt Athletes biking club in Hilton Head. It’s not uncommon for him to ride 75 to 100 miles a day. Retirement is just another phase in life to Blok, and he is not about to let his age define his future.

“I know that my age is 76, but physically and mentally I feel 56,” Blok said. “I hope that I’m an inspiration to older adults, and if you stay active, you can accomplish anything — even a master’s degree from the University of Florida.”