Pamela Blair, PhD
Author, Travel Writer, Psychologist
I’ve never taken the road more traveled!
In 1959, at eighteen, I set off for New York City, on my own, determined to make my way as a professional dancer. I’d already danced professionally in summer stock for two summers, and was ready for the ‘big time.’ A little over a year later, I landed a job in Donnybrook!, a new Broadway musical. I was ecstatic! But during rehearsals, I injured my back. Soldier that I was (and afraid I might not get another chance on Broadway), I kept dancing despite the pain, for six more months. Donnybrook received so-so reviews, and I stayed in the chorus until its last performance. (The show must go on.)
By that time, I knew I’d wrecked my back so badly that I’d never be able to dance full-out again. So, with a broken heart, and not knowing what else to do, I left New York and returned to Michigan, my home state, to attend University of Michigan. I was 20.
During my student days, I met two women who became good friends. The three of us are the inspiration for the fictional characters in my book, THE RELUCTANT WOMB, which focuses on how women, pre-Roe v. Wade, handled unplanned pregnancies.
After graduation in 1965, I stayed on in Ann Arbor and worked for two years at a mental hospital (think One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), just before mental hospitals began to close down. From that experience, I realized that much of the mental illness people came in with was due to our unhealthy society–racism and poverty, especially. I decided to go to the U of M School of Social Work, not to work individually with people, but to become a community organizer. I wanted to change the society that created the conditions for mental illness in the first place. After I graduated, I became the Michigan statewide organizer for the National Welfare Rights Organization, organizing groups of people on welfare, mostly single mothers, all around the state. We staged demonstrations at welfare departments to demand their legal rights, such as a school clothing allowance for their children–laws their social workers never informed them of.
Once my job ended in 1970, I left Ann Arbor and moved to San Francisco. The only work I could find was as a social worker in a welfare department, the exact opposite of the work I’d been doing in Michigan. It compromised my values so much that, after a year, I decided I couldn’t continue.
By 1971, the political situation in the US had deteriorated so much that the only organizations I was interested in wanted to create a violent revolution. I definitely couldn’t join them! But it was so hard for me to be in the US in those years, politically, that I felt I had to leave the country. I wanted something entirely different, foreign.
So I ‘dropped out’ (as many people were doing back then) and, in 1971, I flew to Europe. From there, I traveled overland, mainly solo, across North Africa, into the Middle East and, finally, south through East Africa until I reached Tanzania. I took every means of transportation imaginable: third-class trains, rickety buses, the beds of trucks, paddle-wheel boats, even hitching. I wanted to see how people lived closer up than from a first-class train or a plane window. It was often difficult, sometimes dangerous, but I made friends all along the way and feel I learned so much more than I would have, had I flown directly to Tanzania.
During my travels I realized, if I were to know Africa better, I’d have to work there. So, once I arrived in Tanzania, I found a job in a nutrition project, promoting chakula bora (good food) for children, mainly by putting more protein in their diets through the use of soybeans.
During my time there I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, hitchhiked through the game parks, and raised money for liberation movements fighting to end Portuguese colonialism. This journey and the experience of living and working in Tanzania extremely important. for me. Some of the most profound experiences I’ve had were connecting, often wordlessly, with people from entirely different cultures than my own.
But, when the nutrition project I was working on ended, I regretfully found my way back to California.
I returned to the States in 1974, three years after I’d left, and had no idea what I wanted to do next. That was when my maternal instinct clicked in and I realized I really wanted to have a baby. I became a single mother in 1977. Five years later, when my son entered kindergarten, I began a graduate program in psychology, and in 1988 received my Ph.D. I’d given up my ideas of trying to change the culture through community organization and returned to thinking the only positive change I could make would be to work with individuals who were suffering emotionally. For the next 25 years, I worked in private practice, mostly with traumatized children, until I retired in 2012.
The following decade involved more travel, hiking in the Peruvian Andes, cycling in Cuba, visiting Mexico and many European countries (hiking and cycling), and busing through Japan. In 2001, I partnered with a retired Stanford professor and continued hiking and cycling, now not alone. We married in 2011 and are still traveling when we have a chance.
In 2019, I volunteered on the island of Lesvos, teaching English to refugees from Africa, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. It was particularly important for me because I’d seen those countries in 1972 and 1973, before they’d become ravaged by war. That experience opened my eyes even wider to the plight of the thousands of people who’ve had to flee their homes due to war, famine, and other forms of climate destruction. What was so striking was the grace and fortitude with which these people handled their losses, and how positive they were toward the future.
I’d planned to return to Europe to continue working with refugees, but when the pandemic hit in 2020, and all travel and volunteer plans were canceled, I was stuck at home, as everyone was. That’s when I realized I wanted to write THE RELUCTANT WOMB. The story of my college friends had stuck with me for 60 years, and I was finally ready to tell it. I’m hoping it will someday be published!
At 81, I live in Berkeley with my wife, Mary Ann, and Luc, my rescued cockapoo. Tim, my 45-year-old son, lives nearby.
Licenses & Certifications
Licensed Psychologist in California since 1991.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker in California, 1986 – 1991.
B.A., University of Michigan, 1965
M.S.W., University of Michigan, 1969
Ph.D., The Wright Institute, 1988
Clinical Psychologist Intern, 1983 – 1991
Clinical Psychologist, 1991 – 2012; 2021 – present