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Edwin Dobb

Edwin Dobb

April 17, 1950-July 26, 2019

Edwin Charles Dobb Jr. died unexpectedly on Friday, July 26, of complications from a heart condition. He was 69.

Born in Butte on April 17, 1950, Eddie (as he was called by his Butte family and close friends) attended St. John’s Catholic School and graduated from Butte High School.  Ed’s personality and character reflected his upbringing as the son of an Irish mother and a Cornish father.  In addition to his brilliant mind and gentle soul, he had a quick wit, a little bit of the devil in him, and was a true native son of Butte.

An outdoor enthusiast, Ed enjoyed a variety of activities throughout his life including fly-fishing, speed skating, camping, and hiking.  But nothing compared to his lifelong love of swimming.  Ed’s father was an expert swimmer and required all seven of his children learn to swim.  When Ed was young, he competed “happily, despite mediocre results.”  As he matured, his desire to swim expanded beyond the pool.  In his own words… “I’ve never been able to resist the allure of open water, plunging gleefully, sometimes recklessly, into rivers, lakes, and seas everywhere I’ve traveled.”  Near his home in Bolinas, CA, he spent many pleasurable hours swimming in the Pacific Ocean – alone, or with the family he so loved.

Writing wasn’t just Ed’s career; it was a way of life, and writing came easily to him.  Ed taught narrative writing and environmental journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.  He began teaching there in 2000, and was beginning preparations for the fall semester at the time of his death.

A former senior editor and acting editor-in-chief of The Sciences, Ed has been published in a broad swath of publications from Reader’s Digest and Vogue to Discover, Audubon, and The New York Times Magazine. For the past several years he’s been writing predominantly for National Geographic Magazine.

From 1998 to 2007, Ed was a contributing writer at Harper’s Magazine.  He continued to publish in Harper’s as recently as last fall, when he wrote a gorgeous treatise on adoption, breaking down in Baja, and “the ecology of indebtedness,” titled “Nothing but Gifts: Finding a home in a world gone awry.”

“I defy anyone to read that memoir and not be touched by Ed’s expressive genius, big heart, and deep humanity,” said UC Journalism Dean Ed Wasserman.

Former student Bonnie Chan (’16) said, “Ed was my mentor, but he was also a beacon—a lifelong practitioner of an old school craft, an ardent defender of print and words and stories that matter. He was a tireless champion for every student who looked to him for advice, reassurance, and/or no-bs feedback. And with the greatest kindness and earnestness, he made me feel like I was/am a part of a tribe of storytellers striving always towards some small perfect piece of truth and beauty. He was encouraging, hopeful, respectful, poetic, and funny as hell.”

Professor of the Graduate School Cynthia Gorney, a contributing writer for National Geographic who used to teach with him, said, “There was an extraordinary combination of kindness, wisdom, affection, and mischief in Ed’s face—it was easy for me to see why students so loved working with him. He had the most wonderful laugh and madly high standards. And his writing was just glorious.”

Ed’s love for and commitment to Butte was immense.  One of his proudest moments was when the documentary film, Butte, America, premiered at the Mother Lode Theatre in 2009.  Ed was co-writer and co-producer of the film, which told the story of the miners who fled to Butte’s “Richest Hill on Earth” in the early 1900s.  It still airs on “Independent Lens” on PBS.  As noted in the Montana Standard’s July 29 article about Ed, director/producer Pamela Roberts said in a text message, “To say that Ed was kind, to say that he was a brilliant writer, to say that he was ferociously his own person, to say that he was charming, witty, clever … a good father, a faithful friend, does not begin to express what we’ve lost with his passing,” Roberts wrote. “He was all of that and so much more.”

Butte and the Berkeley Pit are at the heart of Ed’s most recent passion project, “Extraction:  Art on the Edge of the Abyss.”  A co-founder, Ed wrote this description in a recent email:  “Human civilization is out of balance with the rest of life.  We’re gorging on natural resources without regard to the consequences.  It's much more than climate change.  It goes deeper -- to the underlying dilemma, which is the unsustainable exploitation of ALL natural resources, not only coal and oil and gas ... but minerals, timber, fresh water, soil, marine life, on and on and on.  We can change course.  It starts with sounding an alarm.  And who better to do that than artists?  During the summer of 2021, hundreds of artists in the U.S. and many other countries will raise a ruckus in defense of the Earth, our only home.  Dozens upon dozens of exhibitions, performances, installations, and other art projects, all around the world, all at the same time, will deliver a single message: ‘Enough!’”  Extraction was the subject of many conversations between Ed and his family, his friends, anyone who was interested – artist and non-artist alike.  To Ed, it was more than a passion project; it was a calling.

Long-time friend and Extraction co-founder Peter Koch had this to say about his dear friend, “On a walk with Ed in the Bitterroot Mountains back in 1996, I was struck by the nature of our already 27 year-long friendship.  We were buddies in that old Montana sense of sharing secret fishing holes and revealing our innermost desires.  We connected deeply on a philosophical as well as emotional level. His heart and soul were woven into the tapestry of a land that we both shared by birthright.  Our last conversation, just days before he died, was about suffering and the price of happiness.  We ended with an agreement to continue to fight. Seems like all our conversations ended on that note."

Ed was preceded in death by his parents, Edwin Sr. (Tony) and Helen Dobb, brother Will Dobb, sister Antoinette Benevento, and brother-in-law, Frank Simon Jr.

Ed is survived by his partner Susan Barnes, children Ezra Lange (Sarah) and Kate Barnes, grandchildren Sydney, Emmylou, and Lincoln Lange, and Mila & Greta Barnes-Bukher, sisters Suzanne Dobb, Debbie Dobb, Ellen Simon, and Maggie Dobb, and many nieces, nephews, and cousins.

Cremation has taken place.  A memorial service will be held in Butte on October 19, 2019 at 2:00pm.  Location TBA.  RSVP:  edwindobbmemorial@gmail.com.

Memorials:  Donations may be made to “Extraction:  Art at the Edge of the Abyss” at https://www.gofundme.com/f/in-memory-of-edwin-c-dobb.

“I don’t want to die. Damn death. Long live life!”  -- James Joyce, Ulysses

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