Suffolk historian Kermit Hobbs looks at the tombstone of Mattie Smith, the infant whose mother was killed in the crossfire between Union and Confederate forces near the beginning of the Siege of Suffolk. The child died soon after her mother. Both are buried at Cedar Hill Cemetery in what is now downtown Suffolk.
Suffolk historian Kermit Hobbs looks at the tombstone of Mattie Smith, the infant whose mother was killed in the crossfire between Union and Confederate forces near the beginning of the Siege of Suffolk. The child died soon after her mother. Both are buried at Cedar Hill Cemetery in what is now downtown Suffolk.

Focus on history

Published 11:30pm Friday, July 19, 2013

Retirement gives Kermit Hobbs time for his favorite subject

If it’s possible for an introvert to be a “people person,” Kermit Hobbs has succeeded.

Suffolk’s favorite historian loves getting to know what makes people tick. This natural curiosity about what’s inside people’s heads informs both his historical research and his part-time work as a certified mediator.

“I like looking into people, so to speak,” he said.

As a young boy in Suffolk’s Eastover area, Hobbs grew up pulling the weapons of the past, arrowheads and minie balls, from the ground in the woods around his home. That sparked a lifelong interest in learning more about the people who loaded and fired the weapons.

He graduated from Chuckatuck High School in 1961 and studied mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech. He came back home and married a Suffolk girl, Earlene, and started working at the family business — Hobbs Adams Engineering Company, which later would become Amadas Industries.

He left and went to Union Camp for eight years, then returned to the family business and stayed there until December 2009.

“The thought of retiring turned me off,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine how I could survive doing it.”

But it seems Hobbs has survived just fine. He has become a certified mediator and visits area courts to find clients and get referrals.

“To me, it’s very rewarding to get people together and help people work out their problems,” he said. “It beats watching ‘Law and Order.’”

It’s perhaps not surprising that Hobbs’ greatest historical interest lies in one of the bloodiest conflicts in American history — the Civil War, and particularly Suffolk’s involvement in it.

What makes history exciting to Hobbs is something quite unexpected.

“The things that excite me are the new revelations that are still coming about,” he said. “We’re still finding new things about Suffolk. It’s kind of ironic that we’re 150 years from it, but new stuff is becoming available.”

In collaboration with William Paquette, Hobbs has authored two books encompassing Suffolk’s entire history. Recently, he partnered with the Suffolk Nansemond Historical Society, Suffolk News-Herald and Suffolk Living Magazine to produce his newest book, “Siege of Suffolk,” which was compiled from a series of stories commemorating the 150th anniversary of the siege that ran in serial form in the newspaper.

The book details the battles and the down time, the victories and the blunders, the soldiers and the civilians of the 23-day siege that gripped Suffolk in 1863. Perhaps most important, it focuses on stories of actual people — the only civilian death of the siege, the generals, and the rank-and-file letter-writers who used their down time to pen notes to their girls back home.

When he’s not mediating or researching history, Hobbs enjoys playing classical guitar, a hobby he has recently picked back up after putting it down after college, and spending time with his wife. They visit their two sons, who live out of town, and five grandchildren when they can.

The “Siege of Suffolk” book is available for $9.95 plus tax at the Suffolk Living office, 130 S. Saratoga St.; the historical society office, 137 Bank St.; or the Suffolk Seaboard Station Railroad Museum, 326 N. Main St.

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