Rick Blake, a man who would be a sure lock for the mortgage broker hall of fame if there were such a thing, was found dead at his home in Mammoth Lakes on Tuesday afternoon. He was 59.
A devoted father, Blake leaves behind two sons: Kenden, a 2009 graduate of Mammoth High School, and Bryson, who just completed his freshman year.
Services are planned for Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. at the Church on the Mountain in Crowley Lake.
Business partner Donn Steier said Wednesday afternoon that Blake’s passing signifies the end of the Sierra Mortgage Corporation. “Rick was the mortgage company,” said Steier. “No one’s gonna fill that chair.”
Steier said competitors have offered to close all of Blake’s existing deals and turn over the commissions to his children.
Stanley Loupe, who has not only worked in the mortgage business with Blake but served as best man at his 1989 wedding to Tracy Blake (nee Miller), said Blake “was an artist in this business. He was a problem solver and a solution maker and he had a near-photographic memory.”
“As Rick always said, ‘Never say never. The deal’s never dead … it’s just failed to be in my hands.’”
As Steier said, however, Rick never had much of a bedside manner. He could be gruff. He could be impatient. He could scare people. Loupe added, “He was tough to work for. Don’t look to Rick for accolades ‘cause they weren’t coming. He wasn’t going to pacify you. He’d just tell you the truth, tell you what you needed to hear.”
But then, there was that heart of gold. Steier said he frequently had to remind Blake that they were in business to make money after Blake had slashed yet another commission. “But he can’t pay that …” Blake would protest in his own defense.
Pam Hennarty, the Executive Director of Mammoth Lakes Housing, has the office next door to Sierra Mortgage. “He was a magician,” she said. “Rick is responsible for 90% of the workforce housing loans we’ve done. His passing represents a huge loss for potential homeowners in this community.”
In regard to his ability to get things done [if possible], Hennarty recalled, “He would always say he could pound a square peg into a round hole … but he couldn’t polish a turd.”
As Oscar Wilde once said, “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” Rick Blake was a complicated man. He had a strong religious faith, and could be intensely spiritual. As friend Ron Stone said, “His religious underpinnings were there, and he wasn’t ashamed to come up with some timely gems that applied to the situation at hand.”
He could also be profane. As Hennarty said, they often argued about politics (Blake was an avid Republican) and whenever Pam started getting the upper hand, Rick would smile and say, “Hey, you wanna get naked?” This tended to sidetrack the arguments.
Blake fell victim to substance abuse on more than one occasion. Likewise, he continued to rise from the ashes. The overriding memory I have of Rick is his sense of fun. There was nothing better than telling a joke to Rick (especially a joke made at his expense) and seeing that smile slowly cross his face in recognition.
Billy Mayer bartended with Blake at the Rafters back in the ‘70s. “Some of the best nights I’ve ever spent [in my life] were behind the bar with Rick,” he said. “He was the quickest, sloppiest bartender I’d ever met.”
He was so sloppy that the bar mat would be absolutely flooded by the end of the night. “He’d empty the bar mats into shot glasses at five of two for all the guys who were hard up,” Mayer recalled.
After their shift, they’d go across the street to Rick’s apartment, dubbed “Club 59” for the number on the door.
Stanley Loupe said, “He was a thrill seeker, and he lived life on the edge, but boy, did he enjoy life and enjoy people.”
He was especially proud of his boys. I recall sitting at a high school baseball game out at Whitmore with him this spring watching his son play. Kenden got in the batter’s box and seemed to pull away from the ball when he swung. He was awkward. He didn’t look very comfortable or natural up there. I mentioned this to Rick and he looked at me and said, “The fact that he’s out there at all is such a testament to Kenden. He’s worked so hard for everything he’s ever gotten. He’s not a natural athlete, but by hard work, he’s turned himself into one.”
As Loupe says, “His boys reflect the level of love he shared.”
Stone: “His whole life over the past several years was total dedication to his sons and their well-being.”
I didn’t start out as a Rick Blake fan. In fact, I recall some disagreement between us which spread to the pages of this paper, the nature of which now escapes me. But then, one evening, I saw him in the parking lot outside his office backing his truck out, and I stopped over to say hello and we both made our peace. I told him that anyone who’d raised a pair of boys like his must be doing something right, and that tore the wall down. From that moment on, we were buddies.
In the end, Rick did for me what he’s done for so many others; he got me a home loan this past fall when there supposedly were no home loans to be gotten, and he did it quickly and effortlessly and for far less money than I had any right to expect
The evening I heard Rick had passed, I tried to distract myself with the latest issue of the New Yorker. Naturally, James Surowiecki wrote an entire column about the Obama Administration’s proposal to create a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, regulating financial products in a smiliar fashion to the way the Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates, well, products.
In one line, he wrote, “In finance, third parties – like debt-management services and mortgage brokers – are often conflicted at best and corrupt at worst. And buying a house is far more complex, and confusing, than picking out a refrigerator … many of the problems in consumer finance stem from consumers’ financial illiteracy.”
As one of these illiterates, I can tell you that having an honest man like Rick Blake in one’s corner was very reassuring.