Thursday, August 26, 2010

Alfred, Lord Hobbs

Taos suffered a great loss last Friday when our dear friend Alfred Hobbs passed away. He was 83 and had been in poor health for a few months, basically since his return a few months ago from his final round-the-world trip.

What made Alfred so special was his spirit and zest for life; it drew people of all kinds to him, and he was always welcoming, graceful and tolerant. The title above is a bit of a play on words on the poet Tennyson; Alfred in one sense was hardly lordly, being down-to-earth and unpretentious, but he was a fine Southern gentleman, chivalrous and noble in behavior (especially with the ladies).

Did I mention that he looked like a cross between Grizzly Adams and Santa Claus (though he did slim down the last few years, he still had that facial aspect, not to mention a long, white beard and a bright red, slightly misshapen nose)?

The Adventure of a Lifetime
Alfred's life was one of a rogue and wanderer, who found his destination here in Taos (though it never erased the wanderlust, which he would exercise periodically to the end of his days).

He basically ran off from his rural North Carolina home and joined the Marines as an underage 17 in 1944. "His war" was not a bad one, in the sense that he was fully credited as a veteran (which came in handy toward the end when he needed major eye surgery), but didn't end up needing to fight. His unit was mobilized in the Pacific and was one of those which would have faced the daunting task of invading Japan, had it not been for the atomic bombs (at least that's the official story).

After the war, he kicked around for a while, then married a Danish woman. Then, together they took a huge, multi-year adventure through Africa and Asia in a '30's-era London taxi (which they converted into a sort of camper). The taxi eventually made it back to Taos and he preserved it, on blocks, until the present (it's now in the custody of his son in upstate New York). A documentary movie (working title: "Driven") is planned of the great adventure, and of the last cross-country trip he made in it with his son just last year (details below).

He undertook many more trips (six round-the-world trips in all), but after that expedition he went to live in upstate New York and was studying for a Ph.D. in anthropology when he came to Taos in the late '60's to write his thesis on the New Buffalo hippie commune that had been started near here. The paper was never finished, and he stayed here as his permanent residence thereafter. He worked--mostly as an archeologist on road crews, in case some bones or fossils turned up--but not too much. He kept his lifestyle simple and his costs low.

His Ideas
At one point some six or seven years ago, Alfred remarked to me that he had a number of ideas he wanted to propagate while he still could, but that people didn't listen. So, we had a series of interviews on our back porch: mostly just him, me, some refreshments maybe, and the tape recorder.

As it turned out, most of the 3-4 hours of interviews consist of reminiscences--from his childhood, his military days, his travels--but still I got some idea of what he wanted to get across (also from a public meeting he held 2-3 years later).

To a surprising extent, this very tolerant and progressive person's ideas wouldn't be out of place at a Tea Party conclave (minus all the birther and Muslim and socialism nonsense). Alfred had no faith in politicians or top-down reform; he distrusted government meddling. He was looking for a spontaneous movement of the people--leaders not required--to change the way things are done around here and preserve our liberties.

The fullest elaboration of his thinking would've focused on ideas of education: teaching traditional values in a more-or-less Socratic method, learning how to exchange ideas sincerely, with passion, but respectfully. He did have a sense, which came late, of the supernatural and its involvement in human affairs; that part I mostly never elicited too much detail about.

Alfred's memorial celebration was held August 28 at Anglada's. It was extremely well attended (I'd estimate 250-300 people at its peak), cheerful but not overly so (given the recent loss we still felt acutely), plenty of food, plenty of music (something that Alfred really did not care about all that much). Oh, and necessarily so, for one of Alfred's parties, lots of "buddah" (as he would say).

His absence will leave a void, but it will be filled with memories and inspirational thoughts.

For his formal bio, a great picture, and a reference to the movie--and an appeal for money to help finish it--see:

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