Earthworms’ Castings

By Jean Ponzi

Life as a River of Learning
David Lobbig – 1961-2023

“He went down into the river in a bathysphere he made himself – it was really no more than a barrel. He reached his hands out into the muddy dark water, to understand the Mississippi River from being on its very bottom.”

I knew my friend David Lobbig was describing a kindred spirit in James B. Eads, the change-making bridge builder river champion, as I watched him speak on the history of our citys landmark Eads Bridge, recorded for C-SPAN. 

I had looked David up online, on the day I learned he was in hospice care, headed down to the bottom of his good life. I bet he wouldn’t have presumed to compare himself to Eads, a person whose life and work and Mississippi River relationship he so admired. But that kinship is as clear to me as an Ozark stream.

David held the title Curator of Environmental Life, on his job with Missouri Historical Society. “What’s with the Life part?” I asked him once. It was deservedly distinguished but seemed a little verbally kinked to me, being a Word Nerd. “We have a Curator of Domestic Life,” he replied, reasonably relating one Life focus to another. 

His deeply rooted Eco-Logic functioned in swimming accord with his historian’s Long View and his Detail Diligence. He embodied the Way of Rivers: flowing uniquely, into Confluence, through Life’s channels, Out to Sea.

And like river lovers everywhere, David Lobbig shared some darn good tales. Here’s one I’ll share with you.

Holding him in mind as he was in passage, I also watched the video of his TED Talk, from our local TEDx in 2014. 

While he prepared it, I was keenly interested in his process. I aspired to get on this public platform but struggled to focus my ideas and experience. His talk Baby Teeth Stopped the Bomb: What Will You Do? focused history-speak within an enviro-action call. He drew from historical record and from personally getting to know some of the St. Louis scientists, nuclear activists, and average folks whose grassroots research gathered thousands of baby teeth to test for radioactive fallout toxic conveyance through the calcium in tooth-growing milk. 

He wore onstage – and gave out copies of – the shiny little button “I gave my tooth to science” children clamored for, as TV shows like Romper Room promoted the program. Popular culture as power play! In his measured narrative style, he celebrated Moms and the Tooth Fairy being Citizen Scientists, and how pre-digital data was logged and sent through the mail on index cards

He paired photos of his beloved daughter Maggie – gap-tooth grinning, playing in a creek – and toddler John-John Kennedy with his President Dad, to illustrate a triumph for persistent and cooperative persuasion: how that powerful parent’s response to findings of the St. Louis Baby Tooth Survey prompted the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, signed by the U.S., Great Britain, and the Soviet Union. 

History made in his lifetime! David was two. All related in just 18 brilliant TEDx minutes.

David’s life, his works, filled a too-short span for someone who loved learning, history, and nature as he did. May the flow of his Earth Life – history now – inspire us, his fellow humans, to learn to live with care and purpose. As one David Lobbig truly did.

Learn and enjoy more! Hear Jean Ponzi’s 2019 KDHX Earthworms conversation with David Lobbig about his Mighty Mississippi exhibit at Missouri History Museum. Read a circle of tributes to his leadership of Missouri Coalition for the Environment. Thanks.