The KATIE EUBANKS
Family and Faith in the Eye of the Storm
in December 2004,A young couple and their little girl graced the cover of what was then the Jackson Christian Family, the predecessor of Mississippi Christian Living. Barbie Bassett, then chief meteorologist for WLBT in Jackson, smiled alongside her husband William, who was holding her daughter Gracie.
Barbie was three months pregnant in this photo. Shortly after taking it, she suffered a miscarriage.
Nine months later, Hurricane Katrina tore through the Gulf Coast. Barbie was pregnant again.
It was hot. The current reached as far as Jackson and beyond. Little Gracie was at William's parents' home in Philadelphia, Mississippi. And William, then the Central Mississippi operations manager for American Medical Response (AMR), was on shore.
In Jackson, Barbie kept viewers informed about the hurricane's progress and the weather at home.
A worrying fact: "Low pressure systems that reach the coast can have devastating effects on pregnant women," says Barbie.
Because of this, on August 29, 2005, and in the days after, Barbie suffered Braxton-Hicks contractions, "due to the drop in barometric pressure from the Katrina landing and moving north," he says.
A pregnant Barbie rests her swollen feet during a break at WLBT in the fall of 2005.
Braxton Hicks contractions occur long before "real" labor, but Barbie felt the same way, and the baby wasn't due until December. She was afraid of losing another child.
“I spent hours trying to stay calm on live TV. I would lay on the couch in the principal's office every time it went from a weather report to a news report and try to stop the labor."
Now, in 2019, Barbie is sitting in the WLBT break room with William and remembers one person who cheered her on:
“I remember all the people (late WLBT host) Stephanie Bell Flynt: She saw the stress I was dealing with. All she could think was, "I'm going to lose this (baby)." In fact, she was in that room: she put both hands on my shoulders and said: "You have to recover." It was almost as if she would be my mother."
Barbie and William once shared a short satellite phone call. She asked if she had an update on offshore wind conditions. She also asked how she was, as any husband would.
Hallie Bell, left, cut Barbie's hair while donating in honor of Hallie's late sister, WLBT host Stephanie Bell Flynt, at the station's Great Lengths event for St. Dominic's Cancer Services in October.
"I told him everything was fine even though I wasn't feeling well. I was the last thing he had to worry about as he tried to evacuate the residents and focus on his job," she says.
William has his own stories of those early days, during and after the storm: a great-aunt and her husband holed up in their flooded house and ate canned food by candlelight; a South Florida leader who experienced a "really active" hurricane season last year said he didn't know what to do next because Katrina was unprecedented; and, of course, excursions into chaos.
“At 10 am (the day of the storm) I received a radio call from one of the fire stations that a patient had come to us during the storm with a damaged artery in his arm. It was a miracle that he walked there in 100 mph winds,” recalls William.
Firefighters held and treated the man until the wind had died down sufficiently.
Then: "I took another paramedic and an EMT on a 4x4 expedition," says William. "It wasn't safe to be outside yet, to be honest. We dodged a light pole or two, lots of tin and debris. It took us four tries to find a (safe) way to the fire station."
The patient was taken to Gulfport Memorial Hospital near the seaport, where shipping containers had been washed ashore like Lego pieces.
The hospital lost electricity. "I think your generator is flooded," says William. "(But) without missing a beat, in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable, medical staff immediately went to work to perform emergency surgery on him right there in the ER.
"People just battled through incredible circumstances and obstacles to try to make a difference for somebody."
On another occasion, “we come to a driveway and see a crowd of people in the driveway. They are coming towards us. We think they might think we have supplies. We rolled down the window a bit, you know. We have one foot on the brake and one foot on the accelerator in case we need to go fast,” says William.
"And the guy says, 'Hey, do you need something to eat? We've emptied the freezer and we're cooking everything. Come and get something to eat.'"
Left to right: Gracie, Barbie and Lilly Faith Bassett recently donated locks of their hair to St. Dominic's Cancer Services at WLBT's Great Lengths event.
William and his colleague thanked the man but told him they had enough food for a few days.
Barbie interrupts: "But isn't that what Mississippi is known for (for offering kindness)? Even in the worst of circumstances, they helped each other."
She also had the chance to do it after the storm. Pregnant women who had evacuated the coast took refuge in the Mississippi Coliseum without knowing where they would give birth.
"When Katrina was no longer a weather reporter, I went into the newsroom on a break and answered one of the ringing phones. On the other line was an evacuee who was nine months pregnant," Barbie says.
The woman was due to give birth at any moment and was unaware of the hospitals and doctors in the area. "They tell me that my house is gone and that I have nothing," she told Barbie.
Two weeks after Katrina hit, Barbie and others hosted Jackson's biggest baby shower at the Ag Museum. More than 80 moms-to-be turned up, met hospital officials and went home with free diapers, one-piece suits, towels, even handmade booties, hats and other items knitted by quilting groups.
For the Bassett family, unlike many others, Hurricane Katrina caused only temporary heartbreak, not tragedy. William spent six weeks on the coast but was able to take a 48-hour vacation after 15 days and another 48 hours later. And baby Will Bassett didn't come out until December 2005.
weather all together
Katrina is just one example of the physical and emotional storms Barbie and William have weathered together, not to mention helping others get through it.
Barbie grew up with the weather dictating her life in many ways. The youngest of four children born to Brenda and Harold Dean Wiggs, she grew up on a farm in the small town of Marks in the delta between Clarksdale and Batesville.
Barbie was bullied as a child for her appearance. Unfortunately, bullying doesn't stop with adulthood, especially notwhen you're on TV in the age of social media.
"That's where my love for meteorology comes from," he says. "The weather controlled everything in our house, from finances to emotions."
But Barbie's parents taught her early on to "trust the Lord through the storms," literally and otherwise, she says.
“I was bullied in elementary, middle, and high school, mostly because of my appearance and my beliefs. ... My mom used to share (her snacks of hers) hers with me because my snacks were taken from my lunch box (my mom was a teacher at the same school I went to)”.
Barbie has always been fascinated by how God spoke to his people through the weather in the Bible. As a child, she wanted "to talk about Jesus and the Bible, and no one wanted to listen to her," she says.
“I felt isolated and alone at school, but I was always safe with my friends and family at church. Most people laughed when I told them I wanted to do weather on TV because I didn't see myself as someone who should be on TV!
Needless to say, she's past her awkward phase. In 2000, she won the international Mrs. Mississippi pageant and placed in the top 15 in the international pageant. She has garnered four state pageant titles and one national title over the years.
When Barbie and William first met, it was love at first sight, and the looks just keep coming.
Barbie and William met in their twenties as volunteers with Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership, an organization they are still involved with. She immediately knew that she would marry William, and four months later she did.
It could have been love at first sight, nothing wrong with that! – But Barbie says that what she likes most about William is his wisdom.
"He's obviously smart in the book business, but he's probably one of the smartest men I know when it comes to life," he says.
“You talk to anyone and they will tell you that you will not find a better person to be in the trenches. And I've seen him work in the trenches with our family. And when I need wise advice, and sometimes I don't, he gives it abundantly and with a tender heart. there you have me. The tender heart always wins.
For William, it's Barbie's generous spirit that he loves most.
"She's a giver, sometimes to an excess. Whether it's the kids, myself, the family, the social group or the team member, she makes time for anyone who asks, often to her own detriment."
The Bassetts' third daughter, Lilly Faith, was born in 2008. All three children are named after hymns: Gracie, whose full name is Ashley Grace, referring to "Amazing Grace"; Will's middle name is Christian, a reference to "I'll tell the world I'm a Christian"; and Lilly Faith refers to "Having faith in God."
Gracie and Will are teenagers, and Lilly Faith thinks they are, adds William. Grace leads.
From left: Will, Barbie, William, Lilly Faith and Gracie Bassett.
"It's a fun age," Barbie says of the children, whom she affectionately calls "The Bassett Hounds" on social media. "People talk about their teenagers being difficult, but for the most part that's not a bad thing. I think that's the funniest thing because they all have their different personalities."
Plus, "the teen years are when you make your memories with your parents," she says. For this reason, she resigned from her full-time position at WLBT in 2013. She now jumps to the station when it suits her. She and William homeschool the children, and he spends most of his time at the family's rental properties or tree farms.
For fun, Barbie and William listen to music from the '80s. In 2017, they visited every '80s band they "could go to," says William. He often tries to woo her and the kids with artists and songs in the car. Your favorite concert experience in the '80s? Travel.
In the eye of the storm
Outside of the family, Barbie juggles many businesses: she does social commerce for a biotech company; she's opening an online clothing boutique called Cloud 9 (get it?); she is working on her third book; she speaks at conferences and churches; and at her own church, Colonial Heights Baptist in Ridgeland, she sings on the praise team and cares for 2-year-olds.
"Storms come to prove you're real," says Barbie. "Sometimes you don't know the David in you until Goliath arrives."
Much of what he talks and writes is, of course, about the weather, both outdoors and indoors. Her book, due out in 2020, will likely be called Eye of the Storm.
“The storms really come to show you what's next. They come to show the presence of God in your life. Most people see the eye of the storm as the scariest part, but it's the calmest part. So if you can stay in the eye of the storm where his mercy and grace reside, you can weather anything,” she says.
"And the storms come to prove we're real...Sometimes you don't know the David in you until Goliath arrives."
A lot has happened since Barbie and William graced the cover of Jackson Christian Family in 2004's A Lost Child. Both of William's parents "went to the eternal healing of him," says Barbie. Numerous big and small challenges.
"(But) if you can stay there (in the eye of the storm) and not focus on the whirlwind, because that's what Satan wants, if you can stay at peace and focus on God's grace and mercy, you can weather any storm.. Because our sole purpose is to prove how good God is.”