Bloch, Richard A. (“Dick”)

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Bloch, Richard A. (“Dick”)

(b. 15 February 1926 in Kansas City, Missouri; d. 21 July 2004 in Kansas City, Missouri), entrepreneur and cancer-survivor philanthropist who cofounded the world’s largest tax-preparation company, H&R Block.

Bloch, the youngest of three boys, was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri. His attorney father, Leon Bloch, demonstrated an ethic of hard work, while his homemaker mother, Hortense Bloch, inspired her sons to strive for their potential. Bloch’s grandfather, Adolf Bloch, had an entrepreneurial spirit, having left Germany as a teenager to seek his fortune as a trapper and frontier merchant in Colorado before settling in Kansas City. Likewise, Bloch delved into business early. When he was in fourth grade, Bloch discovered a hand press in his uncle’s attic and promptly became a printer. His business grew, and by the time he was twelve, Bloch’s equipment included three automatic presses, which he used to print materials for area high schools.

When Bloch left home to study at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Finance, he sold his business to an Iowa college for use in its printing courses. Bloch, however, needed more money to pay his college expenses, so he began fixing up junked cars and reselling them. He received a BS in economics in 1945. At nineteen, Bloch was the youngest graduate in his class.

Bloch returned to Kansas City, married a Philadelphian named Annette Modell in 1946, and began working in the brokerage business. Meanwhile, his older brothers, Henry and Leon Bloch, founded United Business Co., which offered wide-ranging services from bookkeeping and collection to temporary workers and even window decorating to the small-business community. The bookkeeping end grew the fastest, so the men brought their younger, finance-savvy brother on board to help. Soon after Richard Bloch joined the business, Leon Bloch left to attend law school.

By 1954 the company had twelve employees, and the brothers were preparing personal income taxes for a few clients. That same year, the U.S. basic tax code went into effect, and the Internal Revenue Service stopped filling out tax forms for free, as it had in the past. The brothers had been about to quit the tax business when a Kansas City Star advertising representative talked them into placing an ad for their tax-preparation service. The ad featured a man behind an eight ball and the words “Taxes, $5.” Within a day, their office was packed. The brothers had happened upon a new niche. Building on this success, the brothers disbanded the United Business Co. and spun off a new tax-preparation company in 1955 called H&R Block—the H for Henry and the R for Richard. They used the B-L-O-C-K spelling so that customers could pronounce and spell the name with no confusion.

H&R Block launched its first franchise in 1958 and, in 1962 when it went public, had 206 offices in thirty-four states. By 1969 it warranted listing on the New York Stock Exchange. In the years that followed, Bloch, serving as chairman, oversaw international expansion, while his brother Henry acted as president and focused on domestic affairs. The company grew swiftly in the 1970s, and by 1978 one of every nine U.S. tax returns was prepared by H&R Block. By the late 1970s, H&R Block had grown into a conglomerate with eight thousand offices worldwide.

Bloch was living the high life and enjoying his financial success. He spent vacations racing around in a cabin cruiser dubbed After Taxes. But it all came crashing down in March 1978, when Bloch, a smoker, was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. His doctor gave him a 30 percent chance of survival and told him to get his estate in order. Instead of listening to the doctor and assuming nothing could be done, Bloch sought a second opinion at a tumor clinic in Houston. Through an aggressive combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, Bloch was cancer-free two years later. Bloch also beat colon cancer in 1989.

After his recovery, Bloch devoted himself to helping others find the best treatments for their cancers. In 1980 Bloch established a cancer hotline staffed by cancer survivors who volunteered to talk to the newly diagnosed who called in. The hotline volunteers also gathered information on available treatments and other resources for patients. Bloch personally funded the hotline, one of the first of its kind in the United States. That same year he founded the R. A. Bloch Cancer Foundation, Inc. (the R for Richard and the A for his wife, Annette).

Bloch decided he wanted to do more, and in 1982 he sold his interest in H&R Block, retiring from the company to spend more time on cancer philanthropy. Next, he founded a Cancer Treatment Panel in and around Kansas City, Missouri. The panel was a conglomeration of oncologists, surgeons, radiologists, pathologists, and other health professionals who met regularly to discuss cases and prescribe the most effective course of treatment. In the eighteen months the panel operated, it reviewed about 250 cases.

Bloch followed up by founding the R. A. Bloch Cancer Management Center at the University of Missouri–Kansas City in 1982. This was not a treatment center but a management center affiliated with hundreds of local doctors who could recommend state-of-the-art treatments. Bloch also put his cancer-fighting ideas to work on the national level and helped design and implement the Physician Data Query for the National Cancer Institute. The data query is a computer program that compiles information on every known treatment for every type and stage of cancer. The government named the R. A. Bloch International Cancer Information Center in Bethesda, Maryland, after Bloch, to honor his work.

On a personal level, Bloch and his wife wrote three books aimed at supporting cancer patients through their tough times. He gave away nearly one million copies, hoping his words would encourage people to fight for their lives. Bloch often noted that he worked harder at fighting cancer than at building H&R Block, because “it’s a different type of dedication when you’re working for life and not for money.” President Ronald Reagan appointed Bloch to the National Cancer Advisory Board in 1982. Bloch received the Public Service Award from the American Society of Clinical Oncology in 1994 and the Layman’s Award from the Society of Surgical Oncology in 1995.

Bloch died of heart failure at his Kansas City, Missouri, home on 21 July 2004. He was survived by his wife, three daughters, and ten grandchildren. While Bloch is most often remembered as the R in H&R Block, it was through his cancer philanthropy that he hoped to leave a legacy—a legacy of hope. Over the course of his lifetime, Bloch generated a great deal of wealth and used it to help others, setting an example for business owners around the world. He spent the last twenty-five years of his life helping people get the information they needed to fight their cancer, and he funded most of those helping efforts out of his own pocket.

Bloch’s book, Cancer... There’s Hope (1982), cowritten with his wife, includes personal details about his life and battle with lung disease. The story of his business and his battle with cancer and personal interviews have been featured in many publications, including Carrie Coolidge and Susan Lee, “A Promise Kept,“Forbes (10 Aug. 1998); JohnBerlau,“H&R Block’s Henry, Richard Bloch, ” Investor’s Business Daily (26 Aug. 1999); and Gene Meyer, “H&R Block Had a Humble Start,” the Kansas City Star (19 Dec. 2003). An informative obituary is in his hometown newspaper, the Kansas City Star (22 July 2004).

Lisa Frick