Entrepreneur, philanthropist and cancer survivor Richard Bloch created one of America's most famous brands when he and his brother Henry co-founded H&R Block in 1955. But it was his personal battle with cancer in the late 1970s that led him to pursue another important quest as a passionate crusader in helping others fight and overcome the disease.
Business acumen begins early
Richard Bloch was born Feb. 15, 1926. His entrepreneurial spirit sparked in the fourth grade when he found a hand press in his uncle's attic and began his first business as a printer. By age 12, he had three automatic presses and was providing printing services to several Kansas City high schools. Before entering college, he sold his business to an Iowa college to use as a print course teaching model.
At the age of 16, Richard entered the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania. The youngest member of his class, he received a bachelor of science degree in economics in 1945. Ever the entrepreneur, while in college he purchased and repaired used cars and sold them for a profit to help pay for college expenses.
After graduation, Richard returned to Kansas City, married his wife, Annette, and began working in the municipal bond business. Meanwhile, Richard's brothers Henry and Leon launched the United Business Co. bookkeeping business. Needing Richard's accounting skills, Henry and Leon asked him to join them in the business.
Richard left the business for about a year in 1953 to become a retail jewelry efficiency expert. Being stranded from his family while on a business trip to San Francisco over Christmas Eve helped Richard realize that returning to his family in Kansas City was a top priority. Soon after Richard's return, brother Leon left the bookkeeping business to pursue a career as an attorney.
In 1955, Henry and Richard renamed the business H&R Block and began focusing on tax preparation services. While Henry concentrated on managing the company in Kansas City, Richard put his energy and talent toward opening offices nationwide. By 1969, Richard was ready for a new challenge. He concentrated on expanding into the international market while Henry took charge of the company's domestic business.
A turning point
In 1978, Richard was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and was told he had three months to live. Refusing to accept this prognosis, he sought treatment at the M.D. Anderson Center in Houston. After two years of aggressive therapy, he was cured. During the darkest hours of his battle, Richard made a promise to himself. If he survived, he would devote his life to helping others fight cancer. By 1980, he was fulfilling his commitment, and in 1982 he sold his interest in H&R Block.
Promise becomes action
Richard and Annette moved from his private battle to a public fight against cancer by founding the Cancer Hotline in 1980. The hotline, one of the first of its kind, inspires and educates thousands of newly diagnosed cancer patients and their friends and family about available treatment resources. The hotline is supported by volunteers who have had or are battling cancer. The services are provided for free, and donations are solicited.
Brothers Richard ( left ) and Henry Bloch founded H&R Block in 1955.
The Blochs also founded the R. A. Bloch Cancer Management Center and the R. A. Bloch Cancer Support Center at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. From 1980 to 1995, the Management Center offered Kansas City area patients a free multidisciplinary second opinion panel. The panel, comprised of more than 100 physicians, helped patients identify the best cancer treatment available. Over the years, the Bloch Cancer Management Center has served as a model for more than 125 centers that have been established nationwide. Some, like the Support Center, offer free services in relaxing, comfortable gathering places for patients and their supporters to share experiences and knowledge.
Richard's vision of a national network of cancer information became a reality when the National Cancer Institute implemented the Physician's Data Query (PDQ) at http://www.cancer.gov/cancerinfo/pdq/cancerdatabase. This site provides information about state-of-the-art treatment for every type and stage of cancer and all the current experimental therapies. Site information is gathered from cancer centers around the world and is continuously updated by staff researchers. To honor Richard's efforts, the government named the Bethesda, Md. building the R. A. Bloch International Cancer Information Center. Most government-issued cancer information is disseminated from the Center.
Richard and Annette have authored three books: Cancer... There's Hope is the story of Annette and Richard's fight against his "terminal" lung cancer; Fighting Cancer is a step-by-step guide for cancer patients to help themselves fight the disease; and Guide for Cancer Supporters helps family and friends support cancer patients. All are available free through the Cancer Hotline at (800) 433-0464 or at www.blochcancer.org.
The R.A. Bloch Cancer Foundation in Kansas City manages the Cancer Hotline and Web site (www.blochcancer.org). The Foundation also oversees annual Fighting Cancer Rallies to raise awareness that death and cancer are not synonymous and to encourage victims that there can be life after a cancer diagnosis. More than 700 community rallies are held simultaneously the first Sunday in June.
During the initial rally in Kansas City in June 1990, the first Richard & Annette Bloch Cancer Survivors' Park was dedicated to Americans who have been diagnosed with cancer. Each park represents a tribute to life. Since then, the Blochs have completed 19 additional cancer survivor parks throughout the country.
In 1982, Richard was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to a six-year term with the National Cancer Advisory Board. He is a member of the President's Circle of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and is a former board member of the National Institute of Health's Office of Alternative Medicine. He also received the 1994 American Society of Clinical Oncology's Public Service Award and the 1995 Layman's Award from the Society of Surgical Oncology.
In the late 1980s Richard claimed another victory when he fought and beat colon cancer. Richard Bloch's relentless commitment to conquering cancer offers us all a legacy of hope.
"There is no such thing as false hope for a cancer patient," says Richard Bloch.
"Hope is as unique with each individual as a finger print. For some it is the hope to make a complete recovery. But it might also be the hope to die peacefully; the hope to live until a specific event happens; the hope to live with disease; the hope to have their doctor with them when needed; the hope to enjoy today."
Richard passed away on July 21, 2004, of heart failure and is survived by his wife Annette in Kansas City, Mo.; three daughters, Linda Lyon of Kansas City, Barbara Stanny of Port Townsend, Wash. and Nancy Linsley of Corona del Mar, Calif.; and 10 grandchildren.
In 1980, Richard Bloch devoted his life to helping others fight cancer.