I met Prof Tobias in 1996 and back then he spoke about his fears for the human race. I still have some of those quotes he gave me that day.
One of them was:” I am concerned about the plight of mankind. Only recently have we crammed ourselves into cities.
I worry about the psychological implications, we know what happens to rats when they are crowded into a cage-they start killing each other.”
Phillip Tobias died on Thursday aged 86, and it wasn’t just our past he was interested in, it was our future too.
I never wrote up that story, back in 1996. I guess I felt a little intimated by his legacy. But Prof did forgive me and we chatted often after that.
This is one of the stories I wrote about him, that appeared in The Star newspaper, today.
Professor Phillip Tobias was a journalists darling. He is one of the few people I know who dictated his quotes to you and he helped you out with the grammar too. “Let’s put a comma there,” he would say “no, no lets make it a semicolon.”
For a man so revered in the scientific community, Prof Tobias was very accessible to the media.
Sometimes he would ask for a day just to read up on an academic paper, before commenting. Then first thing following morning, his secretary Heather White would phone. “Hello old chap,” Tobias would say and he would dictate his quote. But he did have a soft spot for The Star, for it was this paper that broke the story of the Taung Child. The story appeared on page nine, he always told me. Page nine back in 1924 was the page next to the bioscope listings , and was the equivalent of the front page today.
The Prof will be missed by people like me for he made paleoanthropology-a science with big words and often confusing and tangled family trees-just that much simpler and more fascinating.
Go well Prof