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Ralph Hastings Hobart

Died: May 17, 2005

Ralph Hobart did many things in his life — Peace Corps, the U.S. Army and Vietnam, marriage to a Japanese woman despite the initial resistance of both his and her families, owner of his own business, father and son; but perhaps most of all he will be remembered by friends who knew him as a really good friend.

His roommate Doug Palmer eulogized, “Ralph was one of the kindest and most tolerant people I’ve ever met.” Another roommate, Robert Anderson, described Ralph as his best friend at Yale and his best friend after Yale, the two of them and their wives traveling and staying with each other and maintaining a lifelong conversation on myriad subjects. Howie Mallory wrote that Ralph “was just a really nice guy…He was always the kind of friend who would make time to involve himself and listen to whatever was on your mind.”

Ralph prepared at Andover before entering Yale, where he majored in English and was a member of Manuscript, among other things. Friends recall his sense of humor, his coping with one English paper deadline after another, and his ability to laugh at himself. They also remember him as a reflective person, questioning and going deeper. Vietnam became a defining issue and widening conversation for the class of ’66, and Ralph joined the conversation. Like many others, he concluded it wasn’t right and considered alternatives. An alternative he pursued was the Peace Corps, and he went to Tunisia to teach for two years, thinking and hoping the war would be over at the end of his tour. He found the Peace Corps to be a “tremendous experience,” making him realize that all people — no matter what their culture, no matter what their belief, no matter what their language — are equal in front of God,” and so he said he’d “made a conscious effort to treat them all equally, and this has come over in my regular life.”

When Ralph returned from the Peace Corps, the Vietnam War wasn’t over; and with no alternatives acceptable to him, he joined the Army and went to Vietnam. It was a decision and an experience that he would reflect upon and talk about with close friends for the rest of his life. Out of that experience, though, something wonderful happened. On leave to Japan, visiting his roommate Doug Palmer and his wife, he met Tamie, Doug’s wife’s sister. Doug said it “was love at first sight.” Despite initial resistance from both families, which soon disappeared, they got married. Ralph later said, it was “the best thing I ever did in my life. . . .It’s been a great marriage.”

Ralph was successful in business, and in 1988 purchased and afterwards ran his own business. He maintained friendships; loved the outdoors — camping, back country skiing, canoeing, riding, and even whitewater kayaking on the Colorado River while still recuperating from treatment for the esophageal cancer that would take his life within a year. He faced cancer, in Doug’s words, with “grace, humor, realism, and an absolute refusal” to give up; and he loved his wife and family. They made him feel “blessed,” Ralph said. Ralph passed away on May 17, 2005. He was survived by his wife Tamie, his son Robin, his daughter Holly (Yale, 2000), two grandchildren, and his sisters, brothers and parents.

Robert Anderson remembers:

First remembrance:

Ralph and I lived next to each other in Wright Hall freshman year and very soon became good friends. We both took English 25, thinking of majoring in English, but it was not the readings in that course we would discuss, rather James Bond and Mike Hammer novels and the early spy novels of John le Carre. We had a shared fantasy life that we did not take too seriously: a source of play-acting, of smiles and laughter. Once, we read — in a newspaper? — that whoever occupied the presidential palace in Haiti, which was then in turmoil, ruled the country, and so we planned to go down there and storm it. We’d go to Humphrey Bogart movies at the Yale Film Society, sneaking in quart bottles of beer, and afterward talk like Bogie.

Near the end of freshman year Ralph and I decided to room together; but, as it was highly unlikely we would get a two-man suite, we joined with two others from our entryway who were in a similar predicament, Doug Palmer and Greg Jones. Although we hardly knew each other, we became not only suite mates sophomore year but also good friends.

After graduation Ralph went into the Peace Corps; after a two-year stint in Tunisia he received a draft notice. He talked to me about the possibility of going to Canada but after meeting with his father decided to comply and was inducted into the Army. While in Vietnam — he served as a clerk-typist in the Saigon area — he took his first R&R in Japan to visit Doug Palmer and his wife, Noriko, whom Doug had met when she was a student at Vassar. During Ralph’s visit he happened to meet Noriko’s younger sister. He liked her, and she seemed to like him. It might be more accurate to say that Ralph fell in love at first sight.

Later in his tour Ralph got a second R&R, and he took this one in Japan too. This time, although he spoke no Japanese, he proposed to the sister and she, although she spoke no English, accepted.

Second remembrance:

An Anecdote Involving Ralph Hobart

Ralph and I shared one habit all four years we were at Yale: procrastination. Especially when it came to schoolwork — and especially when it came to writing papers.

It was second semester senior year. Ralph was an English major, and he had one particular paper for an English class that he was struggling to write. I can’t remember the class or the paper, only that Ralph was having a really hard time getting it done — even just starting it. (Ralph, by the way, had a distinctive way of saying “really:” grimacing, with a quick shake of his head, his eyes narrowed.)

“I’m not kidding,” he said to me, more than once, “I’ve got to get this done. Otherwise I’m going to flunk — and if I flunk this class I’m not going to graduate!”

He soon gave up on trying to write it at his desk in our suite — that just wasn’t working — and fled to the Pierson library. But those big leather armchairs were just too inviting, as was the collection of magazines, so then he tried Sterling. But that didn’t work either, and so, desperate, he descended into the “Pierson Pit” — a dingy room in the Pierson basement.

No go: “That place is horrible — it’s so depressing, I couldn’t write one word! I don’t see how Mallory can stand it.” (Howie Mallory, our classmate, was a regular in the Pit.)

The next evening he started to leave the room carrying paper and books.

“Where you going this time, Hobes?”

“Well, this is it, I’ve just got to do it — it’s do-or-die time.”

“So where are you doing?”

“Well — and don’t laugh — but I’ve got a room at the Holiday Inn.”

“What?”

“I said, don’t laugh!… And I told you: I’ve got to get this paper written — if I don’t, I’m not going to graduate.”

“But why the Holiday Inn?”

“Well…I figure I really need seclusion. Plus, since I’m shelling out all this money for a room, that means I have to write it: I can’t just waste the money…. Anyway, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Good luck.”

The next day we met in the lunch line at Pierson dining hall.

“Well, Hobes, how did it go?”

“How did what go?”

“With your room at the Holiday Inn — what do you think?”

“Oh that…great.”

I could tell from his reply — and the way he turned away from me, hiding his face — that something was up.

“Oh?”

“Sure…” He turned back to me. “Flash — let me ask you something.”

“Go ahead — shoot.”

His eyes narrowed, as if he were about to deliver an important question:

“Have you ever seen this guy Johnny Carson?”

“Sure — the ‘Tonight Show’.”

“Well, let me tell you something….”

And then, with a few quick shakes of his head, his fake grimace holding back the genuine grin that was trying to break out: “He is really — really — funny!”