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Thomas C. Hobbs, Obituary Reference Librarian, Dies at 61
MARCH 11, 2010 TAGS:
Carolyn Gilbert, the founder of the International Society of Obituarists--a group dedicated to the arts and science of obituary writing, sent us this tribute to Thomas C. Hobbs, a reference librarian at the University of South Carolina at Aiken, who died two weeks ago. Hobbs was a dedicated and relentless obit aficianado and a trusted resource for writers and academics around the world. Hats off to one of our own.
The world of obituary writers is a small one in terms of numbers. The good part about that is that we know each other both professionally and personally. We are not unlike other specialty niche writers who cover sports, politics, or the arts. Like any other family of specialists, we soon learn the the strengths or weaknesses of our colleagues. We learn which obituarist will take the time to answer a question or who will share his knowledge. We know upon whom to depend.
This week we lost that rare breed of person who not only loved his work as a reference librarian, he cherished any opportunity to share his special research skills with his professional family of obituarists. In fact, he literally glowed when he could find the "golden egg" of an obituary inquiry for a colleague. He was the "go-to" guy for intricate, complicated research.
Thomas C. Hobbs, Reference Librarian, University of South Carolina at Aiken, South Carolina, died suddenly at his home sometime between February 28 and March 1, 2010. His co-workers knew something was drastically wrong when he did not appear for work. Research librarians are very reliable and very punctual. Tom had died.
Unless you are a writer or researcher, you may not understand the depth of the loss of Tom Hobbs. This shy, unobtrusive man had a passion for the art of the obituary and for research. The small world of obituarists includes writers of scholarly books, articles and dissertations involving the history of the obituary; its literary form; the cultural differences and similarities in the world's obituary practices; and the writers who have influenced the evolution of the modern day obituary. More often than not, these writers would approach Tom Hobbs to go into his formidable research mode in order to guide them to a source, a quote, a confirmation of a premise. If it existed, he would find it. Even if it didn't exist in material form, he could somehow find its trail. This work is akin to looking for a needle--or a part of a needle--in the haystack of encyclopedic information.
Hobbs was never stingy in his willingness to be of assistance to a writer or an academic. He found a place of comfort and special honor for his abilitites and intellectual understanding of the art of the obituary.
Kay Powell, former Obituaries Editor, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, recalls: "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 and obits fans."
When Tom would come across an especially interesting or obscure obituary-related idea, he would offer to develop a wonderfully viable presentation for the annual conferences of the International Association of Obituarists. He was always thinking ahead in this regard. He planned his schedule around these events where he joined colleagues from around the world in pursuit of the art of the obituary.
And he didn't stop there. He co-founded "Obituaries in Education Interest Group", created its Facebook group page and established an online research page. He 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 in 2006. The international conferences featured his "Obituaries as a Mirror on Society: What the Research Shows" and perhaps his most intriguing "Sylvanus Urban, Obituarist Extraordinaire: The Gentleman's Magazine and the Life and Times of John Nichols."
To see Tom Hobbs in person, one would surely take him for someone in academia--perhaps a librarian. He was so shy he could fade into the woodwork at times. The words that colleagues have repeatedly used in these days since his death are "gentle," "sweet," "quiet." His rather ambling gait, thick glasses, collegiate pullover sweater vest and boyish smile are imprinted our memories.
Born in 1949, Tom was an only child whose father died when Tom was nineteen. His mother Mrs. Kathryn Hobbs celebrated her 100th birthday recently.
People who study and write obituaries have a healthy outlook on life. They also have a sense of humor about the entire genre. Tom was no different.
Tom, you are missed today and will continue to be missed. When we need that special research that only you can do, you will be missed. When we can remember only a part of a quote, you will be missed. When we find some obituary treasure we want to share, you will be missed. A kind, thoughtful soul...you will be missed.
International Association of Obituarists
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Kate Sweeney wrote on June 22, 2010 8:35am
I met Tom at the Conference of Obituarists in Las Vegas, New Mexico several years ago. His reputation as an enthusiastic scholar preceded him. He struck me as an incredibly sharp thinker and a kind person, and I'm thankful to have met him. [Report Comment]