Eugene Nathaniel “Tony” Babb died of heart failure in Oakmont, Santa Rosa, California on October 26, 2021.
He was 84.
Tony’s life had many acts. He was born in Redding, in Shasta County. When he entered kindergarten, during the Second World War, his parents had moved to Menlo Park. His school planted a victory garden, which he recently pointed to as the beginning of a life-long love of helping people grow things. Tony returned to Shasta County most summers during his childhood to work on the Jessee Ranch in Hayfork, a two-thousand acre cattle operation. It was there he learned the ways of the cowboy. He spent the summer of his senior year managing a dairy farm in Saudi Arabia, where his father was working as the first harbor master at the new port at Dammam. This planted the seed of his desire to travel the world and make a career of it.
Tony studied agriculture, animal science, and economics at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo where he was a competitive bulldogger on the rodeo circuit and later became an advocate for foreign students and published an underground newspaper. He funded his education by taking time off to ship out with the Merchant Marines and to help his father manage the Calistoga Mineral Water Company. At Cal Poly, Tony was approached by Rafer Johnson, the Olympic gold medal decathlete, to start a chapter of People-to-People, an international exchange organization, which then led to a job organizing students on college campuses all over the West, including the recruitment of early Peace Corps volunteers with Bobby Kennedy. Tony’s daughter Holly was born during this time.
In 1966, Tony was recruited by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) for his first overseas post, managing rural development projects in over a hundred villages in Savannakhet province, Laos. He and Marcia Conary were married that same year, and the two settled into their first home in the village of Lahanam, near the border with Vietnam during wartime. Tony and the villagers built an irrigation system that, to this day, feeds hundreds of hectares of rice fields. His projects also included wells, schools, and clinics. Marcia taught English as a second language to the village monks and introduced women to new hygiene practices. They had a pet water buffalo named Daisy.
Over the next four decades, Tony and Marcia had three children together. They lived and worked in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Jordan, and the Philippines. Tony also did extensive work in Kurdistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Cambodia. He went on shorter term assignments all over the globe, preparing proposals for new projects or performing evaluations of existing projects. Tony’s integrity, ingenuity, compassion, and spicy sense of humor meant he always left friends in every port. He left his appendix in Jamaica while on assignment there.
During his long career, Tony worked for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and as a consultant to the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and USAID, among others. During a stint between these places and projects, he was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as the head of Food and Nutrition at USAID in Washington, DC. He publicly resigned under the next administration in protest of the US refusal to condemn the Nestle Corporation’s marketing of infant formula to mothers in Africa, who were told their breast milk was dangerous to their babies, causing them to mix powdered formula with contaminated water. His noisy exit landed him on the front page of the New York Times, and later that year he received the Elliott-Black Award from the American Ethical Union.
Later in life, Tony operated the Rose and Crown Pub in Palo Alto for a few years before he and Marcia bought the historic Crocker Ranch in Cloverdale where they operated a bed and breakfast for over a decade.
Tony was very active in the Democratic Party. He campaigned for every presidential nominee from JFK to Biden, sometimes holding leadership positions, and for many candidates for local and state-wide offices along the way. His work as a field organizer on the McGovern campaign drew mention in Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail.”
Tony was a mentor to many, and formed deep and lasting friendships with people he met around the world. He would call his friends regularly to talk about life, politics, and family. He embraced the friends of his children and the children of his friends, and brought them into his larger definition of family. Tony was an avid sailor, scuba diver, cribbage player, baseball fan, and an unskilled but highly-spirited singer of old cowboy tunes.
In addition to all those who called Tony their friend or uncle, he leaves behind Marcia and their daughter Suzanne, who is a partner at a local law firm; their son Trevor and his wife Maggie and their son Bear, who live in Williamstown, MA; and his daughter Holly, her husband Mike and their children Jessica, Nick and Gabby of Scotts Valley. Tony and Marcia’s first-born son, Brian, died as a child when the family was living in Jordan. No services will be held; Tony’s reach extended too far. An online memorial, to which you are invited to contribute, can be found at tonybabb.net