Accidentally Blinded, He Became Tireless Champion for Disabled

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bud Keith was a high school wrestler, a championship bowler and a Peace Corps volunteer in Panama. In his early 40s, he twice tried to ascend Mount Rainier, the Washington state volcano that is one of the highest peaks in the country.

Keith, who was blind, once lamented, "Too many disabled people are out of shape." So he joined a group that uses outdoor sports to help rehabilitate the physically handicapped and helped build Ski for Light, an organization for blind skiers.

Keith, 68, an Arlington County resident who died June 14 of prostate cancer, defined himself through physical independence as well a dash of mischief and irascibility.

He said he never much liked guide dogs except as an excuse to meet women. He hated when little old ladies tried to help him cross the street. They would reach around him and push. "Thus," he said, "making both of us sight impaired."

He was an equal opportunity specialist at the Department of Health and Human Services, and his job was to safeguard the civil rights of minorities and the disabled. But sitting in a federal office building was never as satisfying, he said, as escaping into his serious extracurricular interests.

In 1991, he was honored at the Norwegian Embassy in Washington for his work with Ski for Light, which was modeled on a Norwegian program. The ambassador called him a "tireless champion of sports and recreation for the handicapped."

In his acceptance speech, Keith spoke about feeling limited professionally in his civil rights career. "The same opportunity has not been available for me professionally," he told the crowd of dignitaries. "So if this is where I get to be a boss for a little while, that's the way it is."

Speaking of the skiing organization, he said, "You see the tears when the week of skiing ends and people say, 'Well, it's time to return to the real world.' I try to communicate that Ski for Light is the real world."

Raymond Fred Keith, a fourth-generation Washingtonian, was born Nov. 20, 1939. He was attending a private school in Delaware when a classmate pierced his left eye with a nail. His right eye became diseased, and within eight months he was blind.

He was active in sports and drama at the Maryland School for the Blind in the 1950s and later became fascinated by bowling. He won several national blind bowling tournaments during the next two decades.

In 1965, three years after graduating from American University, he became a Peace Corps volunteer in Panama and taught at a school for the blind. Blind people have always been a rarity in the organization, a spokeswoman said.

Keith's personal travels took him from New Zealand to the Serengeti plain in Africa, and he deepened his involvement in athletics for the disabled. He said he preferred cross-country to downhill skiing because downhill required complete obedience to a guide and was not relaxing.

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