Cover photo for George B. Tobi, Jr.'s Obituary
George B. Tobi, Jr. Profile Photo
1934 George 2023

George B. Tobi, Jr.

January 2, 1934 — February 9, 2023

Ponte Vedra Beach

 

George Bell Tobi, Jr, 89, passed away on February 9, 2023. He was the only child of George Bell Tobi, Sr and Edith Van Houten Tobi. Born in Jacksonville, he spent his childhood in the Avondale neighborhood. He often shared fond memories about times with his grandparents and parents, his morning paper delivery route, sandlot football and riding bikes with friends with whom he would maintain lifelong friendships.

George - or ‘Junie’ as his mother called him - showed an early interest in building models, understanding electronics and tinkering with motorbikes. He described himself as a ‘shade-tree mechanic’. He refurbished two automobiles in the family driveway and his aptitude for mechanics never waned. Later in life, he might quickly turn a family mealtime discussion into an instructional talk about the merits of a gas turbine or the basics of an electric generator.

George graduated from Lee/Riverside High School in 1947. He then attended the University of Florida where he received a degree in mechanical engineering, with honors, in 1952.

After college, George joined the United States Navy. He attended Officer Candidate School in Newport, RI followed by aviator flight school in Pensacola, FL. He trained on fixed wing aircraft and then helicopters, ultimately receiving his gold wings in recognition of being a qualified helicopter pilot. He was then assigned to the Naval Air Station Lakehurst with the East Coast helicopter squadron. While off duty he traveled in uniform so he might receive a military ticket to squeeze into the Metropolitan Opera’s standing section to experience the live musical performances he’d only heard on records during childhood.

During his years of active duty, George served on several memorable deployments. For four months in 1959, he traveled on the Westwind Icebreaker to the Arctic Circle to assist with resupply for the Thule Air Force base in northwestern Greenland. In 1962, George once again deployed as part of a helicopter detachment, this time for eight months. The crew departed from Boston for New Zealand and McMurdo Station on the Eastwind Icebreaker. After a month at the Antarctic research station, the ship headed to Australia. In Sydney, George purchased a nine-foot surfboard and convinced the ship’s captain to allow him to store it aboard. He rode this longboard at Ponte Vedra Beach, including some fun days of tandem surfing with his kids. After leaving Sydney, the crew stopped in Tahiti and returned to the States via the Panama Canal. These deployments fostered his flourishing interest in polar exploration stories.

Upon returning to northeast Florida in 1962, George relocated to Ponte Vedra Beach. He continued to serve in the Navy Reserve while conducting engineering design work at Reynold, Smith & Hills. At RSH he met his wife, Norma, an early computer systems programmer who was performing stress calculations for some of NASA’s earliest projects. The couple married in September 1964. They would soon have two daughters, Karen and Paula. In the next few years, George joined W.W. Gay Mechanical Contracting where he spent the balance of his career as a Professional Engineer working on many inspiring projects. He also became a founding member and past president of the Ponte Vedra Beach Rotary Club. He retired as a Captain from the Navy Reserve.

George was a devoted husband and father. Family time included endless activities of beach days, holiday meals, canoe trips throughout Florida, fried shrimp dinners and family slideshows. George attended many wonderful neighborhood celebrations with numerous family friends. He enjoyed spending time with his brotherly cousin, Fred, surf fishing and restoring ‘Annie’, his 1928 Ford Model A roadster. He mended the family home — a wooden beach house that was almost an extension of his self. He went to an occasional Gator football game, but he always appeared at the kids’ recitals, sports games and school events.

George’s long interest in drawing morphed into a love for painting watercolors. He displayed his art at Gallery 44 on Aviles Street in St. Augustine. He and Norma often served on ‘gallery duty’ on weekends as they managed the gallery desk and greeted visitors. They enjoyed free spirited potluck dinners with fellow artists and enriching friendships. George was also a founding member of the Jacksonville Watercolor Society and eventually became a St. Augustine Art Association board member.

In later years, George and Norma embarked upon an Alaskan expedition, several trips to Europe, attended the symphony and relaxed at home with their feline family friends. They also relished times spent visiting with their granddaughter, Megan James and adult children, Karen Tobi and Paula James (Troy).

After the passing of his wife Norma of 51 years, George busied himself at age 82 by fully restoring a 1918 Ford Model T and creating databases. He attended lunches with groups of dear friends such as the Billy Boys and the RSH Over the Hill group. But mostly he was seen seated with his feet up on the coffee table re-reading his all-time favorite series of English and French mystery novels — side by side with his beloved Rubenesque tuxedo cat, Foster.

A private graveside service will be held in his honor at Oaklawn Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Jacksonville Watercolor Society or a charity of one’s choice.

 

 

 

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