Mike Noble

He stays strong through his faith in religion

Scroll down to read the related story

Press the play button to start the video. Please note: this Web site is best viewed with , a free downloadable web broswer. You will also need the latest version of a Flash player to view video, and can download it for free by following this link.

View previous profile, Helen McMillan Zak.

View next profile, Larry Hill.

Mike Noble’s black leather jacket creaks as he takes a sip of soda at Henry’s Café in Libby. At 57, he’s a burly man and speaks with a strong voice. But hidden within the depths of his barrel chest lie clusters of minute needle-like spears of asbestos fibers piercing the tiny alveoli sacs that transfer oxygen into his blood. Over time, the fibers have moved to the lining of his lungs, causing scarring and making it difficult to breathe. His disease, asbestosis, is slowly stealing his life.

Mike was born and raised in Libby, where he raised his own three daughters. He breathed the asbestos for much of the 21 years he worked at the Zonolite mine operated by W.R. Grace, in his various jobs as laborer, millwright, truck driver and electrician. In his time at the dry mill, the dust was so thick that a 300-watt incandescent bulb viewed at 10 feet was “just an orange glow.”

Mike’s voice grows louder as he talks about the “bigwigs” at W.R. Grace who allowed this to happen and betrayed their employees,

“They originally told us it was nuisance dust,” he says. “You trusted the company. You presumed they knew what they were talking about.”

However, internal memos show Grace knew the danger – that the so-called nuisance dust could kill.

Mike learned of his death sentence in 1983. Twenty-five years later, he uses oxygen at night to breathe. It hasn’t been easy, but he, his wife Patricia, and their three daughters find strength to keep living in their Catholic faith.

“I believe that we are not of this world,” he says. “That there is a better world to come. And I think that with that hope, it helps with our thinking.”

Mike’s wife, Patricia, has to face her own asbestosis death sentence as well as her husband’s. She was exposed to the powdery dust when her father worked at the mine and brought it home in his clothing.

“They had coveralls that they had to leave up there to be washed and my father did [the laundry] the last couple of years he was there,” she says. “[He] died of it almost two years ago now.”

Patti sits at the kitchen table in the house Mike built. Photographs are layered across the refrigerator along with colorful alphabet magnets for her grandchildren.

“I think Grace pulled a real stinker on us,” she says, laughing at her choice of words. “You just have to learn to live with what [Mike] has and what I have, and be thankful that our children don’t have it.” As of now.

The youngest, Tricia, is 18 and for the moment still lives at home with her parents. Her father was diagnosed in 1983, seven years before she was born.

She recalls the days when she could hike a trail or even just “mess around” with her father before it became difficult for him to breathe.

“When I was really little I remember we’d go out and play with the horses,” Tricia says, smiling. “Now he walks up five stairs and he has to sit down because he can’t breathe.”

One of her roles in the family is that of courier. Walking up a flight of stairs is incredibly difficult for her parents because of their restricted lungs. The Nobles' pantry is in their basement, so Tricia dashes up and down to fetch things for her parents.

“Sometimes having to run downstairs, like, ten, twenty times a night just because they couldn’t do it kind of bugged me, but you get over it,” Tricia says. “You realize this is what is keeping your family together, so you just better do it.”

Tricia tries not to be frightened of a dormant disease that might come to haunt her 30 years from now.

“I’m hopeful that the future will be better,” she says.

Meanwhile, her father does his best to keep from dwelling on the future or spending too much time thinking about the past. To him, life must be lived in the present.

“We all get our due in the end,” he says. “We all get our due. Either of this world, or the next world. We have to stand behind the decisions we make today.”

Back to the top.

All content copyright 2008 to present Kristine T. Paulsen. Request permission to reprint.

item8 item7 item6 item5 item4 item3