Philip Tobias passed away this morning, according to a mutual friend. I’ve not heard any details.
Tobias is the most important hominid anatomist to have lived in the 20th and early 21st century, having taken the chair originally established by Raymond Dart at Wits University. He literally defined several of the hominids, being the anatomist to author the official diagnosis of several species. He was also a human rights champion, an excellent poet and decent singer and performer, an excellent teacher, a great friend, a strong and central personality in human evolution and unbelievably demure and humble for a man of such stature.
I remember the first time I met him. I was standing in the lobby of the Peabody Musuem, where we were hosting an LSB Leakey Foundation Event. I had just seen off Gordon Getty and his staff who were heading for lunch, ridden down the elevator with Yo-Yo Ma, I’m pretty sure the Presidents of two or three countries were milling around and some other stuff was going on when Mary Leakey and Philip Tobias walked up to me. I instantly dropped all the other names and gave them my full attention.
“We heard you might be able to drive us to the bookstore,” one of them said. “Harvard Square is meant to have some good ones.”
I thought for a moment and it occurred to me that I might not be a normal graduate student because I hadn’t soiled myself yet. Truth is, I wasn’t, having had a normal live before I started the project of Piling it Higher and Deeper.
“I can,” I replied. “My pickup is out in front, but it has a miniature cab. One of you will have to ride bitch.”
They walked to the bookstore.
The last time I met Philip was in his lab at Wits. I’ve told part of that story before, so I won’t bother you with it now.
RIP Philip. Thank you for everything.