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Epilogue | Bobbie Keen

Hillsborough band director Bobbie Keen taught life lessons for three decades

TAMPA — Bobbie Keen lived for one thing — the sound of a well-rehearsed high school band playing in concert or marching under the bright lights.

A band director for 30 years in Hillsborough County schools, most of them at Leto and Plant high schools, Mr. Keen sometimes used colorful language to motivate students to their superior ratings. "I'm going to crush your face," he sometimes threatened, or: "I'm going to staple your lower lip to your nostril."

"Nothing he intended on doing," said Jason Quintero, a Tampa lawyer and former member of the Leto Falcon band. "It was just to keep people in line."

Behind the tough talk, students knew Mr. Keen as a father figure who would give them lunch money if they were hungry, pay out of his own pocket to have their broken instruments repaired or give them a ride home.

Some even called him Daddy.

Mr. Keen, a revered band director, died May 9 of lung cancer. He was 61.

"The best teachers are the ones who are involved beyond a subject, to teach the broader lessons of life," said Quintero, 37. "Be respectful. Put in effort. Pay attention to the details. Care for each other. Have fun doing it."

Mr. Keen grew up on a Wimauma farm, one of four brothers who played the tuba. He went to the University of Tampa to follow in the footsteps of his brother Lonnie, who became a renowned 25-year band director at Brandon High. "Most people go to college to get a degree," said John Acosta, a retired music supervisor for Hillsborough County schools. "Bob Keen went to college to be a band director."

He was a taskmaster, squinting down rows of flashing instruments with a hand to one ear, shouting encouragements or singling out a section for pushups ("Drop and give me 10!") if one of them messed up.

Grueling rehearsals led directly to high points. Mr. Keen took the Leto Falcons to 20 straight years of superior ratings, from 1977 to 1997. His move to Plant High in 1998 led to a memorable halftime show that year when Plant's football team played Armwood.

Heightening the archrivalry between the two schools was the fact that Bobby Keen, Mr. Keen's son, was directing Armwood's band.

"It wasn't that either of us were out for blood," said the younger Keen, who countered his father's Jimmy Buffett medley with New Orleans jazz, "but I didn't want to let my dad down.

"It would be fair to say it was a draw," he added.

Nearly 400 former students spanning three decades showed up for Mr. Keen's memorial service Saturday at First United Methodist Church of Brandon. They reminisced over his many sayings, but one stood out. As his band stood in the tunnel before a football game, Mr. Keen always asked: "Who loves you, band?"

"You do, sir!" they shouted in unison before taking the field.


Bobbie Wayne Keen

Born: Jan. 28, 1950.

Died: May 9, 2011.

Survivors: Wife Vivien; son Bobby; stepdaughters Stacey Lane and Dana Botner; brother Donald; sisters Helen Rhodes and Geraldine Chancey; seven grandsons.

Hillsborough band director Bobbie Keen taught life lessons for three decades 05/18/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 8:37pm]
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