Seven months after his death, family, friends, and community members will gather to celebrate the life of Damariscotta resident Robert “Haas” Tobey at Coastal Rivers Conservation Trust’s Darrows Barn from 4-6 p.m. on Friday, May 19.
Attendees are encouraged to share their personal remembrances of Tobey, a man who was a fixture at Damariscotta Select Board meetings and continually pushed for environmental preservation and conscientious land use in the town through his volunteer work since first moving to the area in 2011.
Tobey worked to develop awareness of the imminent threat of global climate change and the rising sea waters it is bringing with it through his work on Damariscotta’s 2014 comprehensive plan committee, the land use advisory committee, and waterfront improvement committee. He was instrumental in developing the plan for a seawall and reconstruction of the municipal parking lot. Tobey was presented with the Spirit of America Award at Damariscotta’s 2019 annual town meeting for his efforts.
Haas Tobey spent his life looking to the future. As a uniquely gifted “renaissance mathematician,” he designed the first computer to perform calculus for IBM, he advised Fortune 500 companies on emerging technologies and how best to use them, improved hundreds of lives during his time as a spiritual healer, and helped to build and maintain the intentional community of Rajneeshpuram in central Oregon that aspired to serve as a roadmap for a new way to live.
“My life is about trying to understand and communicate how we as a species need to adjust to survive,” Tobey said during a series of interviews prior to his death on Sept. 11, 2022.
Locally, he was also an active volunteer with the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association, helping to fine-tune committee processes and working to build the Heritage Orchard at the association’s campus in Unity, an apple varietal preservation and education center.
“It feeds my soul,” Tobey said of his extensive volunteer work. He also noted that what he loved about Damariscotta was the people and that he wanted to see the community grow and thrive.
He said he got involved because of his lifelong commitment to producing food locally and sustainably and building and maintaining a strong community.
“These are issues I’ve been involved in all my life before I moved to Maine,” Tobey said.
He stressed that the “old-fashioned barn-raising mentality” needs to be brought back, in order to deal with the substantial challenges the future holds.
“Damariscotta needs to build its own resources,” Tobey said.
Tobey left a legacy of “neighborhood self-sufficiency” with the Emergence Farm property in Damariscotta that he hoped would serve as an example to the community of how to grow its own food.
Tobey adamantly expressed that Damariscotta must build its own insular food economy sheltered from the global economic storms that he predicted would continue to worsen and upend our food supply chain in the United States.
He cited Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the continued depletion of natural resources by humanity, and the threat of climate change as urgent reasons why we, as a society, must be locally focused moving forward.
“If push comes to shove, it’s not going to get beyond New York City. New York City is going to pay a higher price. We’ve got to do it locally,” Tobey said of the food supply system.
At Emergence Farm, he and his partner, Ursula Leonore, built a thriving ecosystem from scratch where they grew garlic, tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash, raspberries, peaches, and elderberries, among other crops.
The farm was a barren piece of land with only hard marine clay when Tobey first moved there in late 2011. He worked to rebuild the soil by planting certain crops, starting with garlic that fall, with the help of his friend Dick Chase.
Tobey started studying permaculture and slowly implementing its practices on his land, working with existing nature, mostly through trial-and-error processes. According to Midcoast Permaculture Design, permaculture is a “system of ecological design for sustainable human habitats and perennial agricultural systems that produce more energy than they consume.”
“I was planting to build soil as well as to grow food,” Tobey said. “I let the land tell me what to do.”
Tobey has deep familial connections to this particular spot in Maine and its potential for sustainable agriculture. His father was the middle of eight children on a subsistence farm on the Davis Stream, the headwaters of the Damariscotta River, in Jefferson.
In the early 1950s, Tobey worked as a waterfront counselor at Wavus Camps during his family’s summer vacations in Maine. Tobey was born in Toledo, Ohio on May 24, 1935.
Tobey was always looking to the future and pushing for new innovations as he pursued a career in mathematics. He was discovered as a “renaissance mathematician” around the same time he was designing the first computer that could perform calculus for IBM. He was widely respected at IBM and Harvard University for his natural mathematical abilities, he said.
“For that level of mathematician, it’s a level of genius that is independent of grade level,” Tobey said.
After working as a teaching fellow in symbolic logic at Harvard University, where he said he solved two previously unsolved problems there, and then publishing his thesis, Tobey was awarded a doctorate in 1972. He said that Garrett Birkoff, a professor who Tobey called “the king of mathematics at Harvard,” personally called him up, urging him to publish the remainder of his thesis so he could receive his doctorate.
“He says, ‘write one more chapter to your thesis and we’ll get you out of here. You’re one of the experts in this field,’” Tobey said.
Tobey began work with The Diebold Group in 1980 as a management consultant, advising Fortune 500 companies on future technologies and how they could impact corporate productivity 15 to 20 years down the line.
“My job was planning for the future. So I’m very attuned to watching trends,” Tobey said.
A few years earlier, Tobey had discovered the meditation tapes of the Indian guru, Osho, then known as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, which “freed me up from my sense of exhaustion,” Tobey said.
Tobey explained that to him, Osho was not a leader or a guru, but more of a spiritual guide and wise presence.
“Bhagwan would say, ‘you are all unique. You have to find your own path to enlightenment. My job is to provide the tools for you to find your own path to enlightenment,’” Tobey said.
Always the seeker, Tobey soon began teaching the meditations and started a mediation center at his home on Long Island, N.Y., searching for a better way to live.
Osho moved his intentional community and all his followers from India to a 100-square-mile ranch in the high desert of Oregon in 1981, where the city of Rajneeshpuram was incorporated, igniting several controversies with the local neighbors.
Between working as a management consultant, he was able to visit “The Ranch,” as Osho’s followers referred to it, for several work periods, where he helped to construct houses and maintain the infrastructure, including the massive dining hall, on the sprawling property.
“We had a huge operation. Everything was kept spotless and clean,” Tobey said.
Tobey said that although not a traditional religion, the community was considered as such by the residents and the U.S. government. The residents’ “worship” consisted of building the community and a new way of life based on affirmation of life and the importance of joyfulness and playfulness.
“We worshiped by doing construction work or by cleaning our living quarters or by preparing food. We had various temples of worship where we did these various tasks,” Tobey said.
By the time Rajneeshpuram disbanded in 1985 after several prolonged legal battles with the U.S. and Oregon government, the city was home to about 7,000 people, with a fire department, its own police force, restaurants, malls, townhouses, an airstrip, a public transport system using buses, a sewage reclamation plant, a reservoir, and a post office, according to Russell King’s book “Rajneeshpuram: Inside the Cult of Bhagwan and its Failed American Utopia.”
Tobey was given a new name during his time working at Rajneeshpuram, Swami Prem Hasyo, which his close friends shortened to Haas, the nickname that stuck with him the rest of his life. He said he met Lata Mangeshkar, the popular Bollywood singer, at Rajneeshpuram and she explained to him what his new moniker meant.
“She said ‘it means go laughingly in love,’” Tobey said.
Although he didn’t wear the requisite orange required to officially become a “neo-sannyasin,” or member of the community, he was still able to take “sanyas,” which meant that Tobey was “given a name and I was given a letter from Osho,” he said.
Soon after this profound spiritual experience, Tobey discovered that he had spiritual healing powers, which he soon put to use as a traveling healer.
Tobey said he healed hundreds of people, improving their lives, in sessions in private homes, community colleges, massage therapy schools, and church social halls “from British Columbia to Maine, to Mass., to Topeka, Kansas.”
He said he saw people dying of crucifixion during a healing session and believed he and past life therapist, Roger Woolger, could have “written a textbook on the way people had been tortured in the Middle Ages because those scars were coming forward and being relived.”
“Our emotions are trapped in the soft tissues of our body,” Tobey said.
Tobey said one of his guiding principles in life had been, first of all, to “do no harm.”
“I’ve watched people with the skills I have and the knowledge I have try to use it for their own betterment or whatnot, and hurt people,” Tobey said.
He also held a philosophy that “alone” and “all one” are the same, meaning “we are not alone, we are all one.”
Third, he said, “I am that I am.”
“I am here, I am present. I am who you get. I am what you get and what I get. I am this presence holding this position insisting on this integrity, encouraging you to be your best, encouraging all of us to do what’s right, although the wisdom to know what’s right is very hard coming.”