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Memorial Tributes, Volume 14
Tobey and ORBA are credited with turning “the Great Lakes into a modern, efficient ore/coal shipping waterway, humming with automated docks and a fleet of giant self-unloaders.”
For his pioneering contributions to materials handling, transportation, and processing, Tobey was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1989. In 1998 he became the 145th inductee into the National Mining Hall of Fame in Leadville, Colorado.
Tobey was born January 6, 1921, in Jiangxi province, China. Orphaned when he was very young, Tobey was raised in China by American Methodist missionaries whose dedication left a deep impression on him. He was to reflect that, “if everyone contributed just a little bit, it would be a much better world.” Toward the end of World War II, on the basis of the results of a public examination in China, which over 5,000 students took, Tobey was one of 700 selected to study in the United States, arriving in Boston in February 1945. Prior to coming to the United States, Tobey had earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Central University in Chungking in 1943. He completed his master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1946 before attending Lehigh University for his Ph.D. in civil engineering, which he earned in 1949 while working for Bethlehem Steel as an engineer.
It was very disappointing to Tobey that, due to circumstances at the end of the war, he could not return to China. It would appear that nothing in life was easy for Tobey, but turning adversity to advantage was one of his greatest characteristics. Disappointed as he was, he moved to New York City to teach at New York University (NYU) and Cooper Union. That was the start of a remarkable career that saw Tobey make his mark as an educator, an engineer, a manager, and a chief executive. Tobey’s professional life is a continuous tale of defying tradition and conquering new frontiers, from the Atacama Desert in Chile to the Great Lakes in the United States to developing an efficient delivery chain for bulk materials.
While in New York, he met his wife, the former Natalie Kwok, who was born in Shanghai and had majored in arts in