Barbara Orcutt Keeton
June 13, 1938 - March 10, 2021
Barbara "Bobby" Orcutt Keeton, 1938 - 2021
A kind, gentle soul passed from this world in the early hours of March 10, 2021. Bobby Keeton was born and raised in Blacksburg, Virginia, by her parents, Fred and Katherine Orcutt. Roaming the woods of the Blue Ridge Mountains as a child, and spending part of high school in Hawaii, she developed a life-long love of natural history, which later developed into staunch advocacy for conservation. While a counselor at the Virginia Federation of Garden Club's Nature Camp in the Shenandoah Valley, she developed a romance with her future husband, William "Bill" Tinsley Keeton (b. 1932 – d. 1980), whom she married in the summer of 1958. First attending Virginia Polytechnical University, she later transferred to Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., to be with her husband, then a newly minted faculty member at Cornell.
Bobby completed her B.S. in Natural Resources at Cornell in 1959. She continued with graduate studies in animal behavior working with Professor William Dilger, but the demands of raising three young children prevented her from completing her masters. Nevertheless, her zeal for exploring the natural world continued, taking her on research expeditions and trips to a host of exotic locations, including remote corners of Mexico, Peru, the Pacific Northwest, and Micronesia. Bobby and her family lived in Germany for two years while her husband was on sabbatical, first in Munich (1972-1973) and later in Konstanz (1978-1979).
It was in the 1980s that Bobby's conservation work took off. She began working actively with The Nature Conservancy, serving as treasurer of the Central and Western New York Chapter for 11 years. She was a tireless advocate for and supporter of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, and The Wilderness Society—among others. A donation of ecologically significant land in Florida to The Nature Conservancy earned her an honorary lifetime membership. Many an Earth Day or other celebration around the Ithaca area saw Bobby creating and staffing information booths for one (or sometimes multiple!) conservation organizations. Bobby joined the Finger Lakes Land Trust (FLLT) at its inception, helping promote one of upstate New York's most successful land conservation organizations. In the early '90s she donated 66 acres as "trade land"—land sold with a conservation easement, with the proceeds plowed back into conservation work. Later she and her family donated another 111 acre parcel, which became the Ellis Hollow Nature Preserve. In recognition, FLLT awarded her its Conservationist of the Year in 2001.
In 2004, Bobby moved to Wake Robin in Shelburne, Vermont, from where she developed a love of the Vermont landscape, picnicked at Shelburne beach, and participated actively in her grandchildren's lives. Her other great passion in life – dance – was ever present. Whether ballet, flamenco, Hawaiian hula, or the jitter bug, Bobby was never happier than when dancing a jig or watching a performance. Gardening, culture, dance, nature, and family: these were the things that brought a smile to her face.
Bobby faced down challenging physical disabilities almost her entire life. Having sustained a traumatic spinal cord injury in childhood, her adult life saw increasing neurological degeneration leading to an ever-expanding number of physical ailments. Yet she persevered, working ceaselessly to overcome one set back after another. She was a fighter to the end, and never lost sight of the things she enjoyed doing the most.
Bobby was predeceased by her husband, parents, and brother, F. Scott Orcutt Jr.. She will be missed by many, and is survived by her children, Lynn Keeton Gamwell, Sakshi Keeton, and Bill Keeton; grandchildren, Will Keeton, Julia Keeton, and Angelika Keeton Gamwell; and nephews, Bruce Orcutt and Terry Orcutt.
In lieu of flowers, donations are appreciated to The Nature Conservancy or The Wilderness Society.
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Published by Roanoke Times on Apr. 25, 2021.