Ruffin Hobbs, 1952-2008
The piping and drumming world was shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Ruffin Hobbs, a piper well known throughout the southeastern U.S. On July 27, he suffered a fatal fall at his home, a nineteenth century grist mill he restored himself. He was 56.
Hobbs began his piping career in North Carolina in the 1960s, and after high school studied at the College of Piping in Glasgow with Seumas MacNeill. He went on to receive instruction from John MacFadyen, Sandy Jones, William Logan, Mike Cusack, and Ken McKeveny. When Jimmy McIntosh began teaching in the U.S. in the late-’70s, Ruffin began studying piobaireachd with him, and he developed a great affinity for the big music. Mostly known as a solo player, he had stints with two North Carolina pipe bands, the Deep River Pipes & Drums and the Grandfather Mountain Highlanders.
A big man who towered over most at 6’6″, Hobbs was a warm and gregarious personality. He was also a highly regarded artist, a sculptor working mostly in metal, whose pieces are in private and public collections, and various institutions around the United States. After graduating from Guilford College, Ruffin began his career as a blacksmith, creating functional pieces with a strong aesthetic. Throughout the years, he fabricated sculpture using various metals including wrought iron, copper, bronze and stainless steel, as well as some cast bronze and marble sculptures. One of his largest works is a pair of giant stainless steel tigers created for Princeton University’s football stadium. On a visit to his North Carolina studio, drummer Alex Duthart, a skilled blacksmith himself, enthusiastically proclaimed Ruffin “Son of Vulcan,” a nickname that stuck throughout their acquaintance.
For many years, Hobbs’s piping career remained secondary to his fine arts endeavors, but in the past few years he began to redirect his efforts towards competitive piping. Playing in the highly competitive Grade 1 division of the EUSPBA, Hobbs proved that hard work can be rewarded even if at a more mature age than most of his fellow competitors – he won Piper of the Day at Grandfather Mountain in July, his last Highland games.
Ruffin was remembered in a memorial service at his North Carolina mill on August 3rd. Friends, neighbors and family spoke about his enthusiastic spirit, his generosity and the profound influence he had on their lives. His life was celebrated with light music and his beloved piobaireachd, including the grounds from “Lament for the Children” and “Lament for Patrick Og MacCrimmon” His brother-in-law, a fiddler, closed the service with a masterful old time rendition of “Bonaparte’s Retreat.” Afterward a band formed by the numerous pipers and drummers in attendance played; several solo pipers made their tribute as well. His legacy will live on in his art and the many ways he touched the lives of those who knew him.
– submitted by Peter Kent