Fields White Cobb, Jr. was born on February 16, 1932, in Key West, FL, to Fields Cobb Sr. and Alice (Presson) Cobb. Fields’ family moved back to Virginia when he was six months old. Fields loved fishing and hunting in the woods and swamps surrounding his home. Once he discovered forestry, he realized it was the profession for him. Upon graduation from high school, he enrolled at Virginia Tech and then North Carolina State University, where he received his B.S. degree in forestry in 1955.
He then went to work for the Forest Service as a research forester and eventually his supervisor encouraged him to pursue a master’s degree. Fields applied and was then accepted to Yale University. Fields met his future wife, Octavia “Tavie” Hickcox Smith, while attending Yale. Fields received his M.S. degree in forestry in one year and then returned to the Forest Service and was assigned to Gulf Port, MS, as a forest pathologist. After a year in Gulf Port, he resigned and returned to New Haven, where he worked as an agriculture economist while Tavie finished her nursing degree. Tavie and Fields were married on May 24, 1958, and together they moved to Pennsylvania State University (PSU), where Fields pursued his Ph.D. degree in forest pathology. His dissertation work was on oak wilt. While at PSU, they had their first child, Cynthia Leigh Cobb, and about two and a half years later, their first son, David Fields Cobb.
Shortly after receiving his Ph.D. degree, Fields was offered a position as professor of forest pathology at the University of California (UC)-Berkeley. After the move to California, the family grew by another son, Stephen Lewis Cobb. Fields taught and conducted research in forest pathology at UC-Berkeley for 30 years. He worked on a wide variety of forest tree diseases in California. He was best known for his work on root diseases, especially annosum root rot and black stain root disease and on the interactions of fungi with bark beetles. He was an insightful researcher, often pointing to the interactions of forest trees, pathogens, and insects at the landscape level. Teaching was an absolute joy for him. For many years he taught Forest Insects and Diseases to forestry majors with Don Dahlsten. He mentored 18 Ph.D. candidates and many master’s students. His Ph.D. students included David Nelson, Mike Srago, Leonard Felix, James Byler, John Davidson, John Muir, Rich Hunt, Bob James, Don Goheen, Tom Harrington, Thom Lawson, Detlev Vogler, and Matteo Garbelotto.
Fields was terrifically proud of his students’ accomplishments and he lives on through the positive impact he had on them. Fields retired in 1993, and he and Tavie moved to Lake Pend Oreille in northern Idaho to be closer to their grandchildren. In 2008, Fields and his colleague Dick Parmeter were recognized by their graduate students and peers with a large and boisterous reunion in Post Falls, ID. Fields loved life and was a consummate practical joker, story-teller, and southern gentleman. He was an intelligent, passionate, loving, and courageous man of the highest integrity. He was remarkable for his deep sense of fairness and staunch insistence on always doing what was right. Fields fought a long and courageous battle with both heart disease and diabetes. On November 7, 2011, at the age of 79, Fields passed away in Sandpoint, ID.
Written by Detlev R. Vogler and Thomas Harrington in cooperation with the Cobb Family.
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