Robert William Blair was born on January 22, 1873, in Wytheville, the fourth of five sons and fourth of six children of Francis S. Blair and Sallie K. Pierce Blair. His father was a prominent attorney who later became attorney general of Virginia and a leader of the Republican Party. Blair attended the University of Virginia and graduated from its law school in 1895. He returned to Wytheville, joined his father’s law practice, and soon became chairman of the Wythe County Republican Party.
On April 8, 1901, the Republicans nominated Blair for the county’s seat in that year’s constitutional convention and adopted forceful resolutions opposing most of the stated reasons for holding the convention, specifically proposals toblack Virginians. In the May 23 election Blair narrowly defeated the Democratic candidate, county judge John Hall Fulton, 1,492 to 1,469. Blair was one of only a dozen Republicans in the hundred-member convention, and one of the youngest members as well. He therefore had scant opportunity to influence the outcome. Though Blair seldom spoke except on the most important issues, he made a strong speech on February 13, 1902, condemning most of the work of the convention, and he argued for several hours on April 4 against the restrictive suffrage provisions that the convention adopted later that day. He voted against adoption of the constitution on June 6, 1902. Blair’s most prominent moment occurred on September 19, 1901, when, on behalf of the Republican members, he eulogized William McKinley during the convention’s memorial service for the assassinated president.
In the meantime the Republican state convention meeting in Roanoke had nominated Blair for lieutenant governor of Virginia on August 21, 1901. He was under the thirty-year age limit for the office, and after enduring tongue-in-cheek Democratic remarks that he would indeed be of an age to serve before a Republican could ever be elected, Blair withdrew on September 3. In about 1907 Blair took a job with the United States Bureau of Internal Revenue and moved to Richmond, where he lived for a year and joined the Richmond Light Infantry Blues. He was then transferred to Cincinnati, where he continued to participate in the National Guard. During World War I (1914–1918) he served as a captain in the 85th Division’s motor transportation corps.
Following his discharge in 1919, Blair moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he resumed the practice of law and continued to serve in the army reserves, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel. Early in the 1920s he and his wife, Eva Blair, bought a house in Windsor, Ontario. While boarding a yacht that was to take him to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Blair fell into the Detroit River and drowned on June 8, 1924. His body was recovered two days later and buried in East End Cemetery in Wytheville.