Local Obituaries

First Lady of Miami, columnist Faith High Barnebey dies at 81

Faith High Barnebey was married to Miami Mayor Robert King High (1957-1967), who ran for governor against victor Claude Kirk. After his death, she married citrus executive Kenneth Barnebey and resumed her career, writing columns and a book on integrity in politics.
Faith High Barnebey was married to Miami Mayor Robert King High (1957-1967), who ran for governor against victor Claude Kirk. After his death, she married citrus executive Kenneth Barnebey and resumed her career, writing columns and a book on integrity in politics. Barnebey family

Sarah Faith Price was a shy girl straight out of Coral Gables High School when she was thrust into the glaring political spotlight as the wife of a popular Miami mayor and gubernatorial candidate.

Six decades later, as Faith High Barnebey, the former president of the Coral Gables Junior Women’s Club had lived many roles. She was a widow with six children to raise. She wed a Florida citrus mogul. She was a freelance newspaper columnist for decades, and wrote a book on political ethics.

“Character and integrity always have been indispensable to the diminutive Texas-born woman whom some Miamians might remember as Miami’s first lady when her first husband, Robert King High, was the overwhelmingly popular mayor (1957-1967). His life was cut terribly short by a heart attack in 1967 at age 43,” writer and local historian Howard Kleinberg wrote of Barnebey in a 1996 column for the Miami Herald.

Barnebey died April 28 at her Bradenton home after an extended illness, her family said. She was 81.

A 1967 Miami Herald article led with this description of the young woman:

In 1957, when petite Faith High began her 10-year career as first lady of Miami, she looked like a little girl playing grown-up.

Married to Robert King High, and soon-to-be mother to their six children, Faith High stood on the precipice of public life, with all of its demands. She quickly found her fortitude. “I’m sort of numb yet, but actually I’m looking forward to the experience,” she said before moving into the mayor’s white house on South Bayshore Drive in Coconut Grove in 1957.

She learned quickly and stepped up when required. She helped her husband in seven campaigns — five of them successful. But she never compromised her values.

“Bob’s career is his own, and I mustn’t meddle. I believe the only thing to do is go along with his decisions. You know I keep saying I think things happen because they’re supposed to. It sounds trite by now, but I call it destiny or fate — you just go along with it,” she told a Herald reporter in May 1967.

Bella Kelly was a writer at the time, assigned to travel with the first lady on the campaign trail. “I let her know I wasn’t going to glorify her,” said Kelly. “She was quite unusual. She was very strict in her values and refused to compromise. She was like a breath of fresh air in a very political atmosphere at that time.”

Barnebey, who liked comedians Bob Hope and Red Skelton, turned to her religion, forged by family and deepened at Flagler Street Baptist Church of Miami.

“She was a very religious person. She didn’t like ostentatious people. She was a quiet person and impressed a lot of people,” said Kelly, whose work appeared in the Herald.

By 1967, her husband had served as the mayor of Miami for 10 years, suffered his first heart attack at age 39 in 1963, first ran for governor in 1964 on a platform of racial equality, and lost a bruising gubernatorial election to conservative Claude Kirk on his second run for that office in 1966. King High died of a heart attack on Aug. 30, 1967, one day before the Herald article christened his widow with a new outlook in its headline:

Faith High Gained Poise as Husband Moved Ahead.

She was 32, with six young children to raise.

In May 1969, she married second husband Kenneth Barnebey, then a vice president with the Bradenton-based citrus giant Tropicana Products, at Plymouth Congregational Church in Coconut Grove. The couple moved to Bradenton, and Barnebey, who had written some articles, including book reviews for the Herald, resumed her writing career in earnest.

Her columns on family, values and relationships appeared regularly in The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the Bradenton Herald and the Miami Herald through the 2000s.

One of her pieces published in the Herald in 2005, “A Special Card for the ‘Stepfather’ Who Became ‘Dad,’ ” opened: “ ‘Do I call him Dad — or what?’ the boy wanted to know. The woman, remembering, could still picture her son at 14, his face set, his gaze direct. His eyes terribly hurt.”

She often wrote of the importance of character in her columns. She published the book, Integrity is the Issue, in 1971, detailing that very trait in her late husband.

And the shy girl who once stood in the kitchen of her modest three-bedroom home in 1957, contemplating the menu she planned to serve at the traditional mayor’s breakfast on Thanksgiving, would take on the governor when she felt he had slighted her late husband.

In September 1970, she wired Gov. Claude Kirk: “I find your continued and malicious inferences to Bob High’s ‘liberal’ political philosophy extremely distasteful. . . . If he were liberal, this could only apply to his respect for the dignity and rights of his fellow man. A man — the whole man — cannot be labeled in vague generalities like a tube of toothpaste.”

When her columns began appearing regularly in the Herald in the 1990s she did not want the paper to identify her as the widow of the former mayor. “She wanted to be known for what she is, not who she used to be,” Kleinberg wrote in his 1996 column. But he thought readers should know who this lady always was. “Faith High Barnebey has spent a lifetime evoking and living a life dedicated to character and integrity.”

Barnebey is survived by her husband, Kenneth; her children Robert King High Jr., Holiday High, Virginia Cindy Bunton, Valerie Bogos, Bonnie McDonald and Susan High; two stepchildren, Mark Barnebey and Kendra Whitehead; and 15 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be at 3 p.m. Saturday at Griffith-Cline Funeral Home, 720 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, with a funeral June 4 in Blowing Rock, North Carolina.

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen