Former weather girl still wants to wander around the world
SENIOR LIFE Walter Kiely Barbara ‘Bobbie’ Keith, who was Bobbie the Weather Girl during the Vietnam War, went on to have a 30-year career with the U.S. State Department.
From 1967 to 1969, Barbara “Bobbie” Keith kept soldiers stationed in Vietnam abreast of the weather, which wasn’t that big a deal in a country where the temperature runs from hot and humid to hotter and more humid.
However, it wasn’t what she said, for in fact, she could have been reading from the phone book and the guys would still have tuned in to catch the sight of the epitome of the girl back home.
For the service men, Bobbie the Weather Girl, who always wished them “a pleasant evening weather-wise and you know, of course, otherwise,” was a welcome diversion from the deadly drudgery surrounding them. Keith’s stint as volunteer forecaster for the troops lasted only two years, but it earned her a place in the narrative of the war and she considers it to be one of the highlights of her life.
“It’s part of my history,” Keith said.
The homesick soldiers would write her letters, some of them marriage proposals, but most of them just asked about the weather back home. In an age well before the instant news gratification of the internet, Keith would happily inform them of temperatures in places such as Paducah, Ky. and San Antonio, Texas. Gags and music accompanied the weather report, and a bikini-clad Keith sometimes wore the weather report on her body, a la Goldie Hawn on “Laugh In.”
Leaving home to take a clerical job with the United States Agency for International Development in Vietnam at age 19 was for Keith just the next chapter in a life already spent mostly abroad, thanks to her globe-trotting military family. Both of her parents were World War II veterans.
One day at lunch, Col. Ray Nash approached her and said “you look like a weather girl.” Nash was interviewing women for the job, so Keith went along with the interviews. She was surprised she landed the volunteer job of delivering the weather report on Armed Forces Vietnam Network evening news broadcasts.
Keith didn’t stop with the weather. Instead, she would frequently visit the troops, making hundreds of trips to the front lines and even delivering mail to the guys there. The First Cavalry made her an honorary member as did the Blue Max Battalion. The Navy invited her to the USS Enterprise for a Fourth of July weekend. She often was the only girl among a thousand men, but she never felt vulnerable.
“They were all gentlemen,” she said.
During the Tet Offensive, Keith met the war head-on at the doorstep of her hotel in downtown Saigon. She couldn’t go to work for weeks, but she and her girlfriends would pack box lunches to take to the troops. The Viet Cong took pot shots at her on several occasions.
Her country did not forget her service. In 2008, she received the Vietnam Veterans of America’s President’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.
Disillusioned by the death and destruction of the war, she left Vietnam in 1969 on what she calls a “sanity sabbatical.”
“I gave myself five years to decompress, and it took me five years to get back to my own country,” she said.
The perky blue-eyed blonde might have reminded the men of the girls they left back home or of girlfriends they wished they had, but Keith was never the stay-at-home sweetie. The Army brat was born with a thirst for travel that took her around the world in a three-decade career with the State Department.
Before settling down for a career, she enjoyed bouts of wanderlust that led her to Nepal, Israel, Turkey and India, among other places. With her late sister Jo-Ann, she hitchhiked through Yugoslavia. She worked as a protocol officer at the White House, serving former first lady Barbara Bush.
“You get all the first-hand gossip,” Keith said.
Now 70, Keith is retired in Suntree, but she still travels, albeit closer to home in exploratory journeys around Florida. Keith keeps her options open, because it’s never too late for a weather girl to wander.
“There are places I would like to return to and places I haven’t seen,” she said.