Jurgis Blekaitis; Theater Producer, Poet Was Editor of Voice of America

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 26, 2007

Jurgis Blekaitis, 89, a poet, theater producer and Voice of America editor, died June 25 at his home in Laurel. He had Alzheimer's disease.

Mr. Blekaitis worked for Voice of America from 1952 until 1987 in its Lithuanian service and retired as a senior editor. He spoke six languages.

He identified himself as Lithuanian, although he was born in Kellomaki, Finland, where his family was vacationing during a break in his father's military service in the Russian czar's army. The family lived in St. Petersburg until, a few months after Mr. Blekaitis' birth, the Russian Revolution began.

He and his family retreated to his father's ancestral home in Birstonas, Lithuania. Growing up, he learned his mother's native Polish, plus Lithuanian and Russian. Later in life, he learned French, German and English.

Mr. Blekaitis was among the first to receive a degree in theater at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania. He was an actor and director in Vilnius when World War II began.

Rejected for service in the Lithuanian army, he was on a list to be sent to a concentration camp with other intellectuals when he began walking the 210 miles from Vilnius to Liepaja, Latvia, near the end of the war. Caught between advancing armies, he continued on to Germany, where he ended up in a displaced persons camp.

He entered art school in Freiburg, Germany, and published essays about European and Russian theater. He also organized other displaced people into an amateur acting troupe and toured several displaced persons camps in postwar Germany. Producing Clifford Odets's "Rocket to the Moon," Mr. Blekaitis was stumped by a U.S. idiom. He finally decided to use the phrase "son of a gun" without translation.

Immigrating to New York in 1949, Mr. Blekaitis went to work in ethnic theater, staging productions at a Russian theater in Brooklyn. He joined Voice of America in 1952, when it was based in New York, and followed it to Washington when its headquarters moved in 1954.

He published two books of poetry in the United States and a memoir in Lithuania. He also translated poetry by such esteemed European writers as Czeslaw Milosz, Joseph Brodsky and Ivar Ivask.

He enjoyed vacationing on the Baltic seashore.

His marriage to Ausra Bendorius ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife, Grazina Blekaitis of Laurel; three sons from his first marriage, Rainys Andrew Blekaitis and Vilnius Blekaitis, both of Wheaton, and Rimantas Blekaitis of Rockville; a daughter from a previous relationship, Jurate Lazauskas of Panama City, Fla.; a grandson; and two great-grandchildren.

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