Nov. 5, 1943 — Jan. 27, 2019
Walter Hobson, an Army medic who became known as the Doctor of Dry Cleaning for the 50 years he offered dry cleaning and laundry services in Buffalo, inherited his work ethic.
Mr. Hobson was raised by his grandparents, Priscilla and Raymond Hobson, who were among the first African-American landowners in Somerville, Tenn., outside Memphis. In his youth, Mr. Hobson worked on both the family farm and in the family funeral home, and Raymond Hobson impressed on his grandchildren the importance of being entrepreneurs.
"I was taught, 'Boy, get your own business,' " Mr. Hobson said in a 2003 interview with The Buffalo News.
Mr. Hobson, an Amherst resident, died Jan. 27, 2019, in Erie County Medical Center, where he had been a patient for two months. He was 75.
Mr. Hobson was born on Nov. 5, 1943, the oldest child of Parlee King and Joe Kee. He attended local schools in Somerville, and in 1962 he joined his mother in Buffalo.
He graduated from East High School in 1964, then joined the U.S. Army in 1965. He served as a medic and was stationed in Germany.
After his honorable discharge in 1967, Mr. Hobson worked as a bus driver for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, saving every penny to open a business. His family said that during the 3 1/2 years he worked for the NFTA, he often slept on the bus to be there early and worked many double shifts.
His bus driving job brought him more than a nest egg. One day Mr. Hobson, distracted by a beautiful passenger he could see in his rearview mirror, had a minor fender bender. The passenger who had caught his eye, Bonnie Overholt, was taking secretarial classes, and she offered to assist him in filling out the accident paperwork. They married on March 20, 1971, in Bethel AME Church, the same year they opened their first dry cleaning and laundromat at French and Kehr streets.
To set the business apart, Mr. Hobson chose a theme that capitalized on his Army medical training, said his daughter, Peggy Turner.
"They always wore white coats, and there were signs that said things like, 'The doctor will inspect the clothing,' " she said.
Through the years, the business expanded to as many as five locations, including some drop-off shops. Today it has one central location, Hobson's One-Hour Cleaners on East Delavan Avenue.
Through the years, Mr. Hobson gave many people their first jobs, Peggy Turner said.
"It was very important for him to give back," she said. "He gave people so many chances and always tried to help."
His family said, "He believed that if you try your best and work hard at being a fair and honest person and respect the people around you, you will be blessed in return."
Through the years, "He worked from sunup until way past sundown to ensure the success of his business," his family said.
In 2003, he spoke to The News about the challenges of entrepreneurship. "I think a person has to be a workaholic to be self-employed," he said. "You have to be willing to be there 24 hours a day."
Mr. Hobson received many honors, including the 1993 Bigger and Better Business Award from the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and the Community Award at the 2016 Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.
Two decades ago, Mr. Hobson received a kidney donated by one of his sisters, Marie Dalton.
He was a member of Ionic Lodge 88 Prince Hall Free and Accepted Masons. He worked with local pastors and business and community leaders to mentor young people, offer them jobs and visit schools to inspire them. He supported anti-bullying, prison prevention and after-school programs.
To continue his legacy, Mr. Hobson's children established the Walter C. Hobson Community Outreach Foundation to support the education and advancement of young people in Buffalo. Contributions may be made to the foundation at 166 Defense Highway, Suite 102, Annapolis, MD 21401.
Besides his wife of almost 48 years, Bonnie Hobson, and daughter, Mr. Hobson is survived by two sons, Raymond Hobson and Elvis Duncan; a second daughter, Tina Brice; sisters Marie Dalton and Joanne Kee; a brother, Venris Brooks; and eight grandchildren.
A funeral will begin at noon Saturday in St. John Baptist Church, 184 Goodell St.