Blake Cullen departed this life peacefully on March 8 surrounded by family and friends. Born in Chicago, IL on November 22, 1935, he was predeceased by his parents George Thomas and Ann Blake Cullen. Blake moved to Akron, Ohio as a child and attended St. Vincent High School where he excelled as a multi-sport athlete. After graduating high school, he attended Cornell’s esteemed School of Hotel Administration and followed his father into the hotel management business in Chicago. But sports was in his blood. In 1965, the Cubs hired him away from a Chicago hotel as their Traveling Secretary, holding may of the duties normally reserved for the General Manager, including scheduling and negotiating contracts. The only other candidate was Brent Musburger, then a sports columnist. In 1976 he was named Administrator of the National Baseball League managing umpires and scheduling. In 1986 he retired from the National League and briefly owned a minor league baseball team in Daytona Beach, FL. After serving two decades as an administrator with the Chicago Cubs and the National League, Cullen brought an East Coast Hockey League exhibition game to Norfolk Scope in 1988 to gauge hockey interest in the area. He was drawn to the region after seeing a photograph of Norfolk boxer Sweetpea Whitaker on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The exhibition drew a crowd of more than 6,300 and Cullen purchased an expansion franchise he christened the Hampton Roads Admirals for the 1989-90 season. For nearly a decade, the Admirals were the hottest draw in Hampton Roads. He hired the flamboyant and fiery John Brophy, who had just been fired as coach of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Admirals became an instant success story on the ice and at the turnstile. The Hampton Roads Admirals would win three ECHL championships in seven years and were one of the top draws in minor league hockey. In 1991-92, they averaged 7,904 spectators per game and sold out Scope’s 8,900 seats 13 times. The success of the Admirals is largely credited with setting the standard for and expanding minor league hockey around the country. Blake’s hockey legacy served as a mentorship for several of his former players and staff, including Al MacIsaac and Mark Bernard, both whom currently serve as senior executives in the NHL Chicago Blackhawk organization. As well as Ben Ackison, a long-time assistant who currently serves as a Colonel in the US Marine Corp. The team had a long-lasting impact on downtown Norfolk. Admirals’ fans packed nearby restaurants with fans and helped spark a downtown renaissance. By the time Cullen sold the Admirals in 1996, Granby Street was booming, the Harbor Park baseball stadium had opened and downtown was beginning to become a residential location. After selling the Admirals, Blake went on to write several books on sports management and founded the popular “Jazz on Granby” jazz series bringing in national acts to perform at the newly renovated Roper Theater. He also founded the Outer Banks Dare Devils, a summer wooden bat baseball team in a league for college players. He served for over twenty years as a voting member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 2009 Blake was elected into the ECHL Hall of Fame, followed by unanimous selection in 2011 into the Hampton Roads Sports Hall of Fame.
Blake Cullen was a quiet, intelligent man who was known as sensitive and was exceedingly generous. He leaves behind many friends and memories and a legacy that most only dream of. Blake’s family and friends wish to extend a very special thanks to his personal caregivers of nine years, Katina Jordan and Marlene Ilapit, along with the special folks at Sentara Therapy Center, Leigh Anne Schierer and Kelley Tripoli and especially to Dr. Barbara Parks and her entire caring and compassionate staff.
Blake is survived by his sister, Georgann Cullen of Westchester, PA. A private burial service will take place in Newport, RI. Plans for a local Memorial Service in Norfolk, VA will be announced in the near future.