The life, as well as the untimely death, of a 1963 alumnus has been a bit of a mystery studied by many over the past several decades.
According to two accounts, Topper Reid Robert Lockhart ’63 was eaten by a crocodile in 1963 while canvassing the Ubangui River for a non-political, non-sectarian community he planned to build in the city of Bangasou in the Central African Republic. However, newspaper articles from the time and his death certificate say that he drowned, although his body was never recovered to confirm either story.
An article in The Geneva Times on Oct. 26, 1963, says that Lockhart “decided to travel the Mboumou and Ubangui rivers alone in a native boat called a pirogue to investigate the navigatability of the two rivers…The [American Protestant] missionaries tried to dissuade Lockhart and told him about the dangers of the river route with its many rapids. They also urged him to take an expert native boatsman as a guide. These details were contained in an Oct. 11 report to the State Department from the U.S. embassy. Lockhart rejected the advice and left Bangasou alone on Sept. 24 in the native canoe. He arrived at a plantation called Yoloungou, about 10 miles downstream, on Sept. 25 and purchased food…He was observed the last time being carried by the river toward the rapids.”
On Oct. 26, 1963, the Chicago Tribune reported, “a search by helicopters has failed to find any trace of Robert [Topper] Lockhart, 22, who disappeared while trying to learn whether a river system was navigable to bring supplies to Dr. Schweitzer in Bangasou.” A month later, on Nov. 18, 1963, the Los Angeles Times reported, “The search for a 22-year-old disciple of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, lost in equatorial Africa has failed to turn up any evidence of his whereabouts, a member of the search party said Sunday.”
A musician, artist, philosopher and humanitarian, Lockhart’s enthusiasm for helping others was first sparked in the eighth grade when he began reading and collecting news articles about Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the world-famous medical missionary who received the Noble Peace Prize in 1952.
During the summer after his first year at Hobart, Lockhart began volunteering at Schweitzer’s now-famous leper hospital at Lambarene, in the Gabonese Republic. During his sophomore year, he came into contact with two Geneva women, Mrs. C. F. Pries and Mrs. Raymond Kurzweg, who were also devoted to Schweizer’s cause. According to an article in the Geneva Daily News on July 1, 1961, when Lockhart left for Africa the following summer, “he had with him two trunks packed solid with pound of knitted and rolled leper bandages plus what Mrs. Pries describes as ‘a beautiful white coat jacket for Dr. Schweziter, 14 pair of donated nurses shoes, pill bottles, some three dozen dresses and other much needed items.” These items, along with a check to help with the cost of mailing the trunks, were donated by women of the First Presbyterian Church in Geneva, N.Y.
In order to finance his trips and work on behalf of Dr. Schweitzer, Lockhart embarked on a concert and lecture series that took him across the country and eventually back to Africa. His first tour was in the summer of 1961, at which time he embarked on a 36-city tour, lecturing on Schweitzer’s philosophy and giving several piano and organ concerts. His second tour, in the summer of 1963, was intended to garner support of the Bangasou community he hoped to establish in Africa. During this second tour, Lockhart lectured locally at both Hobart College and Interlaken, N.Y.
In 1961, Lockhart began his studies at the Royal Academy of Music, National College of Art and University of Dublin (Trinity College), where he pursued his medical degree.
In his musical studies at the Royal Academy of Music, he concentrated on composition and orchestration and served as the choir master of a boys’ choir and student conductor of the Dublin Orchestra. He completed one music book dealing with the elementary rudiments of music. According to a The Geneva Times article printed on July 20, 1963, “his major composition is a symphony title[d], ‘Etude Symphonique’ and at present he is working on another one.” Another article in The Geneva Times on Aug. 27, 1962 notes, “his greatest project this year was the performance of his symphony at Prince Rainier’s Grand Prix Concert in Monaco.”
As an artist, he completed one large sculpture, “The Curse of Humanity” and, according to an article in The Geneva Times on July 20, 1963, “an exhibition of his work is being planned in California while he is visiting there this summer.” In an article on Oct. 25, 1963, The Geneva Times also reported, “a number of his paintings and sculptures were displayed in a one-man showing in Ireland.” Also, while in Ireland, he is purported to have “given several organ concerts and lectured on the Irish National Television Network” by The Geneva Times on July 20, 1963.
A man of many talents, he was also a philosopher and, apart from being well-versed in Dr. Schweizer’s philosophy, Lockhart – according to an article in The Geneva Times on Aug. 27 – 1962, “completed two philosophical works dealing with the Nature of Man.”
After canvassing the rivers for his Bangasou community, Lockhart intended to travel to Lagos, Nigeria to begin studies in tropical medicine at the University Ibadan, while at the same time lecturing in music and philosophy.
While attending Hobart, Lockhart was a member of Canterbury Club and also sang in the Trinity Church Choir.