Community Builder


By Claudia Luther, Photos by Ted Catanzaro

Published Oct 1, 2017 9:00 AM

For a decade, Carol Block has been an indefatigable champion of UCLA, bringing the city and the university together in any number of ways.

Carol Block sitting on the venerable music contest’s judging panel at Spring Sing 2017. Photos by Ted Catanzaro.

Since arriving at UCLA in 2007, Carol Block, wife of Chancellor Gene Block, has carved for herself a sweet spot in the life of the university, sharing her love of learning, music and community. The events that she organizes and hosts have made a welcome impact on campus life. The Blocks, who came here from Charlottesville, Virginia, live on campus in the Chancellor’s Residence, which provides private quarters as well as spaces for gatherings.

Your title is Associate of the Chancellor. What does that entail?
My position was created by the Regents to recognize that partners play important roles in supporting the chancellor in the ceremonial and community-building activities for the university. In practice, I often accompany Gene to UCLA events as well as off-campus events. In many cases, I attend them on my own. Our aim is to participate in activities that enhance the university’s relationship with faculty, students, staff, alumni, donors, friends and dignitaries. When we arrived here, I was told that I could do as much or as little as I wanted. I decided to jump in with both feet.

What’s it like to live in a house where public events are held?
The residence is very easy to live in. We have a private kitchen, fully private living quarters and a beautiful backyard. Fortunately, we have residence managers who play an essential role in the planning and execution of events. My impression is that the residence operates like a well-oiled machine due to the dedication of the people who help maintain the residence and plan the activities.

We enjoy hosting big events, often on the back patio, or smaller salons inside the house, sometimes with a few donors and a faculty member or two. The faculty talk about their research, which is oftentimes supported by philanthropy. The salons can be truly intellectually fascinating. We also enjoy small dinners with a couple or two, which gives us an opportunity to really get to know them. Many are truly “self-made,” having started with little, and are now successful and very generous with their resources.

Early on, you began hosting recitals featuring UCLA music students. What drew you to that?
I love music — I’ve studied piano and oboe, and I enjoy playing the piano we brought from Virginia. I wanted to highlight UCLA’s incredible music programs and also open up the residence to more visitors, especially UCLA staff. I think it’s important to engage staff and to show that we appreciate the key role they play in the university’s excellence.

Carol Block clapping at a recent recital at the Chancellor's Residence.

How are the recitals organized?
The residence managers work with the Herb Alpert School of Music, whose students apply to perform. Our living room accommodates about 40 people, so we invite a different group of staff to each event. Over the years, we’ve had a wide range of programming, and I have found all the students to be impressive. Recently, we had an undergraduate quintet perform that I could easily imagine performing at Disney Hall — they were that good! Last spring, we had a first-year student play the tuba and then a Brahms piano solo. One added benefit of planning recitals is that I’ve gotten to know many of the music faculty personally.

And you make refreshments yourself?
For the reception after each recital, I usually try to bake something. I like to add a personal touch. Also, while the staff are at the residence, I encourage them to explore the gardens and the first floor of the house, where there is rotating art by students and permanent works from the Hammer and Fowler museums.

You were a judge at Spring Sing this year?
Yes, I was honored to be chosen by the students as one of 11 judges. The performers were all very talented, and it was challenging to differentiate among them. Before going onstage, I was a little anxious, but when I walked out, the roar of the crowd was astounding. Funny, though — the spotlights blinded me, and I couldn’t see anyone!

Tell us about the Women’s Leadership Luncheons that you host.
Twice a year, I bring together women staff and faculty who occupy leadership positions on campus. I invite leaders from the university or the community to speak. It’s a learning and networking opportunity.

What about athletics? Do you attend games?
Yes, I go to many games. And twice a year I invite staff members and their guests to join me at a women’s athletic event.

At Spring Sing 2017, Carol Block meets Ziggy Marley.

What are some of the other things you do?
I volunteer at the Los Angeles Food Bank along with staff from UCLA. Recently, I volunteered at the Horace Mann UCLA Community School. And, occasionally, we gather up 40 or 50 staff members for a local outing in L.A. We’ve toured Chinatown, downtown L.A., and Union Station. On other trips, we’ve explored the remnants of the old Red Line trolley, the port of San Pedro and the historical mural, “The Great Wall,” in the San Fernando Valley.

You and Chancellor Block greet new freshmen and their parents on the Hill on move-in day every fall?
Yes. It’s fun to meet the first-year students, who are so excited to be going to college and moving into a living unit with new friends. We especially enjoy meeting the students and their parents while they are pushing large laundry carts up to their rooms. We also enjoy seeing the student rooms, which are works in progress on move-in day. We’re always impressed by how well organized move-in day is, with plenty of staff and volunteer students helping with the logistics and UCLA Parent Council volunteers providing emotional support for the parents, who, understandably, are often both happy and sad.

What was it like for you to leave Charlottesville, where you had lived for many years?
It was sad — we had good friends we’d known since our children were born. But we were excited, too, for a new adventure.

How was the adjustment to L.A.?
This clearly isn’t a normal college town. This is Los Angeles. This is Hollywood. Coming here and doing this, it was like, where do I start? It was all new, and I had to feel my way at first.

Because of UCLA’s fundraising activities, you must meet a lot of prominent people in business and entertainment.
Yes, but they’re just people. I try not to make a big deal about it.

What’s the hardest part of that?
Walking the red carpet in Hollywood. Often, no cameras flash for us, thank goodness, because they don’t know who we are. But then somebody famous will come along behind us, and all of a sudden, flash, click, click, click — 50 photographers are taking pictures. We just keep walking!

You worked for many years in a microbiology lab in Virginia. Are you continuing that work here?
Yes, but I work only one day a month, for four to six hours. My specialty is mycology — the study of fungi. Not many people have experience in this field, so when I came to UCLA, they asked me to help and to train new mycologists. I also must complete 12 hours of continuing education each year to maintain my California license as a clinical laboratory scientist.

What does the future hold for you?
Gene and I can’t believe we’ve been here 10 years. We’ve both enjoyed it so much. I’m in no rush to leave!

UCLA staff members can sign up for “Outdoors with Mrs. Block,” an organized walking tour in a Los Angeles neighborhood, and are randomly selected to participate.