The joy Tom Hobbs found in research was never more evident than in the historic dimensions he compiled, presented, wrote scholarly papers on and discussed on panels before an international audience of obituary writers.
As a reference librarian at the University of South Carolina Aiken
, he made outstanding contributions to his academic and civic communities, all detailed in his curriculum vitae: http://library.usca.edu/uploads/KDDK/HobbsThomasCV.pdf
“The man was smart, accurate and terrifically helpful, a librarian to the core,” said Marilyn Johnson
, author of “This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All” and “The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries.” “When I told him I was writing about obituaries, he made sure that I knew about The Gentleman's Magazine and offered to help any way he could.”Nigel Starck
, a University of South Australia educator, remembers the help Tom gave him while he was conducting research in the United States for his book, “Life After Death.”
“I do have some notably warm feelings about Tommy – especially as he went to the Aiken bus stop at 12:30 a.m. to meet me off the Greyhound in 2002,” Starck said. (See more from Starck in the comments that follow this obituary.)
Thomas Cooper Hobbs, 61, died in his sleep of a heart attack at 11 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010, according to the Aiken County (S.C.) coroner. His body was discovered the next day by concerned friends from the university, who went to his home in North Augusta, S.C., to check on him after he hadn’t shown up for work.
Tom’s funeral will be held Saturday, March 6, 2010, beginning with visitation at 11 a.m. and followed by services at noon, at the Lane Funeral Home
(Coulter Chapel), 601 Ashland Terrace, Chattanooga, Tenn.
A memorial service will be incorporated into the Palmetto Friends
Gathering, which begins at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, March 7, 2010, at the Lexington YMCA, 401 YMCA Road, Lexington, S.C.
Burial will take place at noon Monday, March 9, 2010, when Tom’s body will be laid to rest next to his father, Noble Hobbs, at the Davidson Memorial Gardens, U.S. 23, Ivel, Ky.
Tom, the only child of Noble and Kathryn Hobbs, was born Jan. 6, 1949, in Chattanooga. Kathryn had worked at the American Lava plant in Chattanooga. Noble, who represented coal mining firms, worked in Kentucky.
Kathryn was around 39 years old, when Tom was born. Giving birth at that age carried many dangers for mother and child in those days.
“Because of her age, she wanted a doctor and a hospital she knew,” said Tom’s cousin Mary Anne McGrew. So Kathryn left Kentucky and returned to her hometown of Chattanooga for Tom’s birth. “She felt more comfortable here.”
Baby Tom and his mother soon joined his father in Pikeville, Ky.
Tom graduated from Pikeville High School in 1967. His father died the following year at age 65.
Tom’s mother, age 100, now lives at a Chattanooga retirement community. Tom, who never married, also is survived by five cousins.
Tom earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1971 and a master’s degree in library science in 1972 from the University of Kentucky
. He continued his education throughout his life, taking college courses, attending seminars and brainstorming with scholars and other professionals to master computer, research and organizational skills.
His career began at Louisiana State University at Eunice
. Tom worked at Prestonburg (Ky.) Community College and Cleveland (Tenn.) State Community College
before joining the staff at USCA in 1986.
USCA officials will likely make and announce a decision on how to recognize Tom’s life and contributions to the university after Spring Break.
Tom’s interest in obituaries as a research tool led him to attend many obit-centered gatherings. Last year, he became an associate member of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers
He endeared himself to obituary writers, educators, researchers and aficionados who attended the first SPOW Convention in 2009 and nine Great Obituary Writers Conferences before that. The latter confabs were hosted by Carolyn Gilbert, founder of what became known as the International Association of Obituarists (IAO).
“I think Tom created that word ‘obituarists’ or came across it in his research,” said award-winning obituary writer Kay Powell, who met Tom at an obits conference.
“I was in line for supper,” Powell recalled. “A man behind me started talking to me about the obit for a bowlegged ballet teacher that I had written for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“I turned to him in amazement, and Tom introduced himself. Years earlier, he had been looking for feature style obits to archive at USC Aiken and discovered the pieces I wrote for the AJC. He quoted entire paragraphs from obits I didn’t even remember writing.
“Nearly 15 years ago, Tom gave me a sobriquet which people quote to this day. When ATLANTA magazine profiled me and the new feature style obits of the AJC, the writer interviewed Tom, who dubbed me ‘doyenne of the death beat.’”
The quiet librarian made his humorous remarks without flourish, as if he were talking about the weather. His matter-of-fact delivery made his comments all the more hilarious.
Larken Bradley, who writes obituaries for the West Marin Citizen in Point Reyes Station, Calif., reports, “My favorite Tom moment was in the lobby of the Plaza Hotel (in Las Vegas, N.M.) when I sat down on the couch next to the big stuffed gorilla. Tom sat in a chair across from me, and I gestured to the gorilla and said, ‘Have you met my sister Bernice?’
“After a beat Tom said, ‘If she's single, maybe I'll ask her out.’”
Carolyn Gilbert, IAO conference host, said, “The last time I saw Tommy was at the 10th Great Obituary Writers' Conference. As always, he was so pleased to see old friends and to make the acquaintance of new obituarists who attended.
"I remember presenting him with an enlargement of a photograph made at his first conference back in Jefferson, Texas, in 2000. It was an image of a smiling Tom with the Grim Reaper -- a surprise guest at the end of the conference.”
His many fans -- among obit writers and people who just love to read and collect obits -- were drawn to him not only for his scholarly research but for his kind and thoughtful nature. In an effort not to offend anyone, Tom, who was a Quaker, seemed to carefully consider his words when controversial topics entered the conversation.
He once said, “I get lots of practice in giving the appearance of impartiality as part of my work in the library. It’s my job to guide people to the information they seek, regardless of my opinion of the purpose they have in mind for it. The students and faculty would not trust me, if I were known as an opinionated crank. I don’t even do bumper stickers and lapel buttons during election season for that reason.”
Tom published “A Librarian Looks at the Obituaries” in Grassroots Editor in 2001 and presented a peer review paper on “The Obituary: A Dying Art Turned Lively Again” to library associations.
“He wanted to know everything about historical and cutting-edge obits,” said Alana Baranick, SPOW director. “In the last couple of years, he dug into the development of obits in newspapers that serve the African-American community.”
While Tom could cite examples from literature about innovative ways to use obituaries in a teaching environment, he also became a student of online multimedia presentations of obits.
Incorporating text, photos, Internet links, video and audio into obits went hand-in-hand with what Tom called “a notion that has been jelling inside my little brain that obits now have enhanced value as an educational tool, not only as an information resource.”
The result: He co-founded the Obituaries in Education Interest Group.”
At IAO conferences, Tom presented his research on “Obituaries as a Mirror on Society: What the Research Shows” and on “Sylvanus Urban, Obituarist Extraordinaire: The Gentleman’s Magazine and the Life and Times of John Nichols.”
“I was stunned to hear that he had come near death the last time people gathered in Las Vegas, N.M., (for the last IAO conference in 2008) that a group had gone with him in the ambulance and kept watch over him through the night,” Johnson said.
“It feels right that people are gathering again, from all corners of the world, to pay tribute to a gentle man and a gentleman who brought a scholarly presence to that lark of the conference.”
Tom had been planning to attend the SPOW Convention in Philadelphia at the end of April 2010.
His cousin added, “He loved his part in that and loved to get with you all.”This obituary was prepared by Tom Hobbs’ friends with help from his family. Please click “Comments” below, if you have Tom Hobbs stories or comments to share.