In March 2023 Dr. Jeff Dobson, a geographer born in Canton, found himself snowed in on an Argentine Antarctic Command base for his seventy-eighth birthday. He could not have devised a better way to celebrate. Jeff, a true adventurer, has visited fifty-seven countries and been around the world four times (and halfway and back more than twenty-five times). Now that he has been to Antarctica, he can check off all seven continents.
Jeff says he “wanted to visit all seven continents before [he becomes] incontinent.” Who says scientists don’t have a sense of humor?
Jeff has tales wild and woolly from his experiences all over the globe, including being abducted in Bangkok and paying for his ransom with his Amex card (purchase-protection applied, and he received a full refund).
What events combined to produce such a highly educated man living a rich, adventurous life?
The story begins with a deathbed promise.
A Simple Country Beginning
Jeff’s grandfather, Charles Monroe Tippens, died from mastoiditis in 1934. On his deathbed in Canton he asked that his wife, Mamie Cleo Cagle Tippens, promise that all seven of their children would attend college. In the context of that time, that request was audacious. Cleo must have been made of stern stuff, because the family pulled together through grit, determination, and raising chickens, and all seven Tippens children went to Reinhardt College, with six graduating.
As of 2013 the family has a combined forty-nine years of education at Reinhardt. Altogether those seven children and their progeny have gone on to teach half a millennium of years in Cherokee County. One of the Tippens children, Jeff’s uncle Leroy Tippens, was principal of North Canton Elementary School during the years of integration and is the namesake of the L. R. Tippens Education Center in Holly Springs.
A firm believer in the power of education and his alma mater, Reinhardt University, Jeff says, “I lay any success I have had and the education I went on to get in the hands of Reinhardt, and I will continue to do whatever I can to champion the university wherever I may be.”
Cherokee County’s Exploring Geographer
Jeff is the picture of a world traveler as he leans back in his recliner on a beautiful Indian-summer day. Savoring a cigar Jeff could pass for an Ernest Hemingway look-alike, not just because of the beard but also because he exudes the posture of a man who has seen much and has many stories to tell. Incidentally Jeff competed in a “Papa Hemingway” look-alike contest in Key West in 2009. The fix must have been in, because he didn’t win.
Jeff’s personal story demonstrates how education, perseverance, and imagination can take you far—very far indeed—and you’ll want to pull up a chair and listen for hours.
When Jeff and his twin brother, Dr. Jerome “Jerry” Dobson, attended Reinhardt College (both class of 1965), the school offered only two-year degree programs. Jeff went on to receive a B.A. and M.A. from Western Carolina University and another master’s degree and Ph.D. in geography from the University of Georgia. Jeff completed his master’s thesis, which involved traveling on a bicycle in northern Sweden and Norway near the Arctic Circle, during the summer of 1973.
After completing his PhD in 1978, he taught at the Ohio State University, the University of Alaska, the University of Illinois, and the University of Georgia. After two years in the Navy serving as public affairs officer for Naval Air Station New Orleans and ten years in academia, Jeff moved into the private sector. In 1980 and 1981 he worked at TRW Missiles and Space Division in San Bernardino, California, where he served as principal geographer on the MX Missile System project under study by the Carter and Reagan administrations.
Throughout the next three decades Jeff’s experiences in the private sector led him to found Data Research and Applications (later renamed Interlink USA) in 1982, followed by Global Interlink Corporation in 2011. He currently serves as president and CEO of both companies, which sell two primary products that are internationally in demand. One of the products is a platform developed in response to the tragedy of September 11, 2001. It allows multiple agencies to collaborate in emergencies. Argentina has been one of Global Interlink’s most prominent clients, providing security for the G-20 summit in Argentina, its COVID-19 Unified Security Command System, and homeland security.
The other product from Global Interlink Corporation is a highly robust radio for digital communications that works in environments inhospitable to radios, such as the commuter train lines of Buenos Aires, Argentina. This business relationship introduced Jeff to the Argentine Antarctic Command. The radios Jeff’s company produces are a perfect fit for the hostile environment of Antarctica.
Antarctica, The Uninhabited Continent
Antarctica is the fifth largest continent in terms of total area, but it doesn’t have a native population, and there are no countries in Antarctica. A group of nations governs Antarctica in a unique international partnership. The Antarctic Treaty was signed on December 1, 1959, and designates Antarctica as a continent devoted to peace and research. Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, and Germany have established year-round scientific bases there.
Argentina has had territorial claims on Antarctica for more than a century, but agreed to sign the 1959 Antarctic Treaty. Argentina has six permanent stations and seven summer stations on the frozen continent, which is where hometown son Jeff Dobson comes in. Communication in Antarctica is tricky. Global Interlink was already solving problems for Argentina on its home ground and had the products needed for its Antarctic bases.
Any equipment intended for use in Antarctica must first survive an entire grueling Antarctic winter. As these tests were commencing, Jeff was invited to visit Marambio Base, a permanent Argentine base established in 1969 on Marambio Island in the Antarctic Peninsula. Jeff also focused on public relations between the base commander, Global Interlink, and his Argentine partners at InterLink Latino America SA.
Jeff and his group were supposed to be in Antarctica for only four days, but when they were about to leave, a violent storm blew up, stranding them on the base for eight more days. Jeff says he was bemused when people tried to sympathize with him that he had been delayed in a snowstorm in Antarctica. A true traveler, Jeff chuckles and says, “Getting caught in a snowstorm for eight days in Antarctica was absolutely perfect. I would have felt cheated of the full experience if it hadn’t happened.”
When Jeff tries to describe being in Antarctica, he grasps for words. Finally he says, “Stark, barren, a pageant of nature. In the morning when I got up and went into the breakroom, the big window revealed thousands of icebergs with the sunrise turning them purple, pink, and gold. It was unbelievable; I can’t even explain it, and I didn’t have the thousand-dollar camera I would need to capture its beauty. But what makes Antarctica amazing is the people who find themselves there; they are the magic. Everyone is from all over the world and each of them has an interesting story.”
The delay in Antarctica was also fortuitous because it meant Jeff would spend his seventy-eighth birthday on the Argentine base. Jeff says he was the oldest person ever to be on the base. In Argentine culture the older generation is revered and treated as respected elders. Jeff says, “They even sang to me, ‘Moses, Moses, we all follow you’ in Spanish. I was really touched.”
The commandant of Marambio Base gave him a birthday gift of a helicopter tour of the base, the Marambio Straight, and the Antarctic mainland. Jeff wonders how he will ever top that experience for his seventy-ninth birthday. It’s obvious the wheels are already turning in his creative mind.
Reinhardt University in Antarctica
Argentina has a technological university in Buenos Aires that supports its bases in Antarctica, and Jeff’s enthusiasm for Reinhardt as an alumnus and member of the board of trustees since 2016 makes him the perfect person to represent Reinhardt on his business travels. Jeff and Reinhardt partnered together and chose two areas of focus: a potential student-exchange program or a joint research program, and introducing Reinhardt as a possible school for international students who want to be educated in the United States.
Education is the foundation of any thriving community. Reinhardt University gave Jeff Dobson and much of his family a great launching pad, and he took it and ran all around the world four times and counting.
Living an Extraordinary Man’s Dreams
The only time during the conversation when Jeff doesn’t convey enthusiasm about his career or travels is when talking about one thing. Jeff shares, “I regret that I never got to travel internationally with my dad. He was a geographer at heart, and I would have loved to have seen the world with him.” Jeff draws on his cigar slowly and pauses to think of what could have been.
Still reminiscing, Jeff discusses a group of friends that first banded together in 1997 in Knoxville, Tennessee, and anointed themselves the League of Ordinary Men. The group loves to hike, backpack, ride horses, and tackle pretty much any outdoor activity. The men relish cold nights by a fire and warm nights on pontoon boats, but no matter where the group goes, two things are always present: cigars and engaging conversation. The longtime friends claim they are “ordinary men,” although if Jeff is the group’s idea of ordinary, they must surely be the most fascinating ordinary men around.
Did You Know…?
Jeff and his twin brother, Jerry, cowrote science mystery novels The Waters of Chaos: The Ancient Saga and The Waters of Chaos: The Modern Quest. The books tell the story of two scientist brothers trying to discover what happened at the end of the Ice Age. The book dedication reads as follows: “This book is dedicated to our mother, Margaret, who taught us geography, and our dad, J. L., who loved the earth and deserved to see more of it.”
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Leana Conway has been a Cherokee County resident for 22 years. Leana is originally from Canada but calls the South her home now. When she’s not writing about the fascinating neighbors she meets for Enjoy Cherokee Magazine, she’s busy as a full-time caregiver to her husband. Leana is also a blogger, mom, and new Oma (grandma in Dutch). Her life philosophy is “Find your calling, and you will find joy.”