On Wednesday night, I called a friend of mine who worked with Bobbi Barrasso decades ago to tell him about her death.
“So sad,” he immediately said. “Such a wonderful spirit.”
People who were lucky enough to know Bobbi invariably felt the same. In the hours since she died peacefully of brain cancer, I’ve found it impossible to think of her without picturing her smiling.
That’s how I’ll always remember her.
She was born Bobette K. Brown in Thermopolis, where the post office is named for her father, Robert, who worked there for 44 years, 18 of them as postmaster. I knew her first as Bobbi Brown, when she joined the idealistic young Washington staff of then-Sen. Malcolm Wallop in the late 1970s.
Rob Wallace of Jackson, who worked with her there and knew her better than most, put it perfectly Thursday when he called her “a joyful presence in any situation, with a quick but never mean wit.”
That cheerfulness was matched by a passion for two things — her home state and politics. She worked for Wallop and another former U.S. senator, Craig Thomas, and was one of the original staff members of the Wyoming Heritage Foundation when it was run by Harry Roberts, the former state superintendent of public instruction.
Bobbi embodied the values of the Wyoming Republican Party in the last half of the past century. She was pro-business but serious about protecting Wyoming’s natural beauty and culture. And she never subscribed to the views of people who were dangerously passionate that they had all the answers.
After she and Sen. John Barrasso were married in Thermopolis in 2008, Bobbi turned out to be a double-barreled asset, partly by working the crowds at campaign events around the state.
She had a knack for winning people over, because she was genuinely curious and unfailingly friendly. “In Bobbi’s world, a room full of strangers quickly became a room full of friends,” Wallace recalled.
And behind the scenes, she offered Barrasso candid advice, drawing on her decades of experience in Wyoming politics.
Bobbi’s optimism was matched by her energy, making her a perfect companion on hiking or cross-country skiing trips. She was determined to get the most out living in Wyoming. Example: She climbed the Grand Teton with another close friend, Susan Anderson of Casper, who later became a steady presence as Bobbi fought the cancer.
Susan was one of those at her side when she died.
“She wanted to hear Robert Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,’ because it reminded her of Wyoming’s beautiful winters,” Anderson told me.
“And I read her newspaper columns I had written about daughters, because Bobbi’s daughter, Hadley, was never far from her mind.”
Teasing her husband apparently kept Bobbi busy right up to the end. When a few friends decided to sing to her, Anderson said, Bobbi begged them to tell her that John was not going to join in.
“She found few faults in people, except about her husband’s singing voice,” Anderson said.
During the decades of my friendship with Bobbi, she was fun to kid, because she took it in stride and responded in kind. So I often reminded her that one of the state’s most accomplished and politically astute citizens got her start as a University of Wyoming homecoming queen and earned the title of “Miss Make It Yourself With Wool” from the Wyoming Woolgrowers.
But that was Bobbi, the genuine homespun article.