Bob Keith comes full circle at Thomas Jefferson High School
Bob Keith is often the first person students and staff at Thomas Jefferson High School see when they start their day.
First thing in the morning, he’s the friendly, kind and welcoming face that greets them in the parking lot.
“He makes sure to wave to every single person. That’s something that often doesn’t happen anymore,” said chemistry teacher Wendy Matta.
During the day, the security guard often is stationed at a table in the lobby. He has bowls of candy tucked away in a drawer — they always include caramel creams — that he passes out to students and staff as they walk by.
“Everybody loves Bob. Everybody,” custodian Jay Atkinson said. “He’s just a happy go lucky person. But he does his job, there’s no doubt.”
Sixty years ago, Keith was at Thomas Jefferson High School. Although, his life looked a little different then.
He was a student and part of the first graduating class at TJ in 1960.
His life has come full circle and he works in the school as it closes its doors for students one final time this year. A new Thomas Jefferson High School will open less than a mile down the street for the 2019-20 school year.
“I never really gave it much thought,” Keith, 76, of Jefferson Hills, said of being in the school both in its beginning and end.
Keith was selected as the first “alumni of honor,” given out on at Alumni Night on May 29. He was selected because he’s truly come full circle at TJ, Matta said.
Keith doesn’t share many details about his time at TJ, although he can be found on many pages throughout the yearbook.
After attending Roosevelt from first through sixth grade, he went on to Thomas Jefferson Junior High School, which was at the site of the current TJ, for seventh through ninth grade.
Students then were sent to Clairton, Keith said.
His class returned to the then-new Thomas Jefferson High School in 1958 as juniors. Seniors stayed at Clairton to finish out their education.
In 1960, Thomas Jefferson graduated its first class of students.
“It was different,” Keith said of the TJ of past. “They were good kids. They are good kids here now, too. It always was a good school.”
In 1960, there was a camaraderie between students, Keith said.
“Everyone was friendly here,” he said. “There weren’t that many cliques.”
Keith went on to work several jobs before landing at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania near Philadelphia.
But he never graduated. A job at United Airlines paid more.
“Gotta get that money,” Keith said with a deep chuckle.
After five years with the airline, Keith relocated to the San Francisco area. He went on to work for a copier company for 20 years and stayed in the Bay Area for 25.
But he and his wife, Zenith, missed the community vibe in Jefferson Hills. So they came home.
Keith never planned to work full time again after retiring.
A part-time gig parking cars at Jefferson Hospital through St. Moritz Security Services kept him busy.
He had worked in school security many years prior for a small time.
So when there was “some mischief going on” at TJ, the company asked him to step in as a security guard for a short time, he said. That was 12 years ago.
Returning to TJ, he focused on work — but noticed the school was bigger than when he graduated. He points to a floor layout to show the details of what areas have changed.
Keith started on the job by greeting every student as they came into the building in the morning. Some days he got hoarse because he greeted so many students.
That only lasted about two years, when the administration at the time didn’t like the morning greeting sessions, he said.
His main job is traffic control in the mornings then patrolling the hallways during the day, making sure all doors are locked and closed, assisting with check-ins to the building and escorting students who might need it.
Students and staff walking past stop to say “Hi Bob!” and chat about their day. They even formed a line to have him sign their yearbooks.
“Bob’s the friendliest person you could ever talk to,” said senior Dom Martino, 18.
Just that morning, Keith noticed that Martino had left his lights on in the car and stopped him as he was headed to school so he didn’t leave them on all day. Keith also helped Martino try and get his locked keys out of his car before.
When a person enters the school, Keith gives secretaries a head-up to check them in with a loud “incoming!”
Students and staff have come to expect Keith to be at TJ every day.
They listen to him and his simple “Gotta move!” when they’re crowding the hallways.
“Bob is part of the fabric of TJ,” Matta said.
To honor him, Matta found an old throne used as a theater prop. Keith sat on the royal throne during alumni night.
Students had been tasked throughout the week with asking him questions, like “What’s your favorite candy?”
Then, they bought him his favorite, Snickers, during alumni night.
They also gave him a plaque with his high school yearbook photo and a current photo of him in the school.
“He has taught the students so much about how to treat people,” Matta said. “He has a way of just making you slow down…. He does truly make them feel welcome and cared for.”
Keith said he doesn’t know if he’ll be moving to the new TJ. He’s an employee of St. Mortiz and they contract with the district.
If students and staff have their way, though, he’ll be coming along.
“You’re not going anywhere,” Atkinson told Keith with a smile.