By Patrick Hutchens
Lawson Lobb, a former lecturer and head of mathematics at Charles Sturt University, is one of three community members on the Optometry Board of Australia. His term on the OBA will finish in August 2015.
South African born, Mr Lobb came to optometry with extensive experience outside of the profession.
He was initially approached for a role as a community member of the NSW Board of Optometry. When the nationalisation of the boards occurred, Mr Lobb applied for a position on the OBA.
Before joining the NSW Optometry Board in 2002, he had worked as an academic, a union president and as a verifier for the Australian Consumer Association.
Drawing on his university experience while serving on the OBA, Mr Lobb advocated for the introduction of mandatory continuing professional development for optometrists.
He also worked towards ensuring the financial position of the OBA and has sat on its financial risk committee.
John Davis, an optometrist and fellow member of the OBA, said Mr Lobb had great enthusiasm and empathy for the profession. ‘He has made a major contribution to the regulatory system since he has been involved,’ he said.
Life before the OBA
Mr Lobb grew up in apartheid South Africa. His father was a printer on the Daily Dispatch, a newspaper made famous by the portrayal of its editor, Donald Woods, in the 1987 film Cry Freedom.
‘It was probably the most liberal, anti-government newspaper. Since I grew up with that around me, at university I was involved in student protests against the government,’ Mr Lobb said.
After finishing his undergraduate studies in South Africa, Mr Lobb was offered a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University. He didn’t take up the offer, and instead was lured by the pioneering mathematics work that was being done in the United States. He opted for graduate study at the University of Illinois.
From there he spent a year at Yale University, under a Rockefeller Scholarship, branching out into politics, philosophy and ethics.
‘It was a thing they had over there to allow young academics to broaden their focus. I decided then that I wasn’t going to be a great research mathematician but I loved lecturing,’ he said.
In the mid-1960s, the anti-Vietnam War and the anti-apartheid movements were in full swing.
‘It was a very interesting time, with civil rights being in the forefront and I was involved in a number of things there in Illinois and down in the south. It was a classic time to be training somebody to be something of a bother to governments and I think I took full advantage of that,’ he said.
After several years in the USA, Mr Lobb returned to South Africa, where he found that he was under government surveillance that included phone taps at his home.
He was brought to court over his participation in protests against the suppression of black voters. Lawyers successfully argued his case but he could no longer continue to live peacefully in South Africa. He came to Australia in 1971, with his wife and three-month-old baby.
His involvement in optometry came years later, after working as head of the mathematics department at Charles Sturt University. During that time he was a national president of the College Academic Union. He also returned to the USA under various professorships, including at the University of Michigan, the University of California at Santa Barbara, the University of Pennsylvania and his alma mater the University of Illinois.
When he retired from academia, Mr Lobb took up a role with the Australian Consumer Association, where he used his analytical skills as verifier and checker for Choice. He also represented the ACA on a number of boards, including Energy Australia’s consumer council and the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s committees on advertising, and complaints against advertising of non-prescription medicines.