Chronicle: Track for my father | Columns

“I would like you to write down down my obituary,” my father stated on my final journey to California, the place he lived in a retirement residence with my mom. A yr later, on December 15, he handed away at age 95, 4 months after my mom at age 94.

Researching the lengthy and noteworthy lives of my mother and father has helped ease my disappointment. It additionally compelled me to face one of the vital vibrant and tough occasions in our household, the 4 years my father, Dr.Francis Lauren Keegan, spent as President of Salem State School (now hui Salem State College) within the early Seventies.

Like different campuses of that point, Salem State had been troubled by protests and strikes over the Vietnam Battle, civil rights and scholar autonomy. In the summertime of 1970, my father was chosen by three analysis committees to handle these conflicts and rework the instructor coaching college right into a premier liberal arts establishment.

At 45, he appeared nicely certified. Frank Keegan was generally known as an innovator and a person of concepts, a former professor and dean of the College of Notre Dame (the place he obtained his doctorate in philosophy), Georgetown College and Cleveland State College. He had collaborated with eminent students equivalent to Mortimer Adler and Robert Hutchins, served within the Peace Corps below Sargent Shriver, and labored for the Ford Basis in Mexico Metropolis. He was about to publish “Blacktown, USA”, a collection of interviews with black Individuals that might take him to the Mike Douglas Present with Sammy Davis Jr. and Muhammad Ali.

As we moved to North America to welcome my father’s profession, our household grew to 10 kids – 5 boys and 5 women. I used to be the seventh, 12-year-old after we drove from our suburb of Cleveland to the President’s Home on Loring Avenue in Salem. Dwelling proper subsequent to the faculty, we had seats on the outskirts of the revolution. We noticed striders cross the campus dressed solely in ski masks, heard crowds of protesters roar and sing, and listened to my father define his sweeping plans for Salem State: “I wish to demolish all of the buildings.”

He wasn’t kidding. My father noticed within the largely middle-class and blue-collar college students of the varsity – who principally lived at residence and labored part-time – an ideal laboratory for experimenting with an idea of a “college with out partitions.” ”, Just like that of the British Open College. He wished to provide college students the liberty to check independently, with out inflexible schedules, wherever they wished, and to supply faculty credit score for his or her life experiences. As a substitute of attempting to get a level as rapidly as attainable to land a job, college students would be taught to see schooling as a lifelong pursuit that deepens the standard of their lives and helps them alter to a altering society. quick.

My father’s provocative model, nevertheless, typically rubbed individuals the fallacious means. Creating what he referred to as “administration by confrontation” – an thrilling mental problem for him – was seen by many as inflammatory and counterproductive. John F. Tierney, then president of the Salem State Pupil Authorities Affiliation, which went on to characterize the North Shore as a U.S. Congressman from the sixth District, recalled in a latest electronic mail that President Keegan “was revered for his mind and his dynamism, and his good intentions weren’t questioned. However he was additionally hated by some “for his vanity (as) a instructor, and college students thought he belittled their opinions and views or ignored them altogether.”

Nonetheless, individuals noticed my dad, he was nonetheless fascinating. At 6ft 2in, sporting a full crimson beard and a lover of cowboy hats and good cigars, he was really bigger than life – good, charming, theatrical, humorous and beneficiant. He was my hero and I adored him. Within the spring of 1974, he introduced a President’s Potpourri of Poetic Readings through which he learn his personal verses and poems by John Donne and William Shakespeare. He sang the Irish ballads “A Little Little bit of Heaven” and “The Sporting of the Inexperienced”. On the finish of the night, he donned a yellow helmet and sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” with a brand new impetus that mirrored his opposition to the Vietnam Battle: “The land of the free and the land of… cowards?” He later defined, “I am simply attempting to consider it.”

Not surprisingly, clashes with lecturers, college students, even his personal administration, have been frequent. The episode that sealed my father’s destiny happened when he insisted that college members work all June, after they have been nonetheless paid by the state of Salem, fairly than moonlight in off-campus jobs. After they refused to surrender this lengthy custom, he withheld a few of their paychecks. Livid, the school voted by an awesome defiance majority, 133-20.

At the moment, I used to be 16 and dealing my first job, as a waiter at Pleasant’s on Lafayette Road. “It is quite simple,” I heard a person say, pouring espresso at his desk. “Keegan should resign or be fired.” Exhausted from the fixed battles, the board supplied him six months paid go away to resign. If he refused, he can be fired. My dad stated no, giving up over $ 100,000 in right now’s {dollars}, telling us he hadn’t completed something fallacious. On June 21, 1974, the council fired him.

Immediately our lives have been turned the wrong way up. We needed to go away the president’s home on the finish of August. The 4 kids nonetheless residing on the home stated goodbye to our mates, packed their luggage and all of us moved right into a rental residence on Lake Winnipesaukee. My dad sued Salem State and misplaced. “I’m leaving as I got here,” he advised individuals, fearing a painful ordeal, “excited”.

My father’s time at Salem State turned out to be the top of his profession. Over the subsequent six years, he accepted two educational vice-president positions – at Metropolis School in Seattle and Sonoma State College in Rohnert Park, Calif. – and was fired each occasions as he struggled to work. with presidents and switch his daring concepts into actuality. After that he launched into a profession outdoors academia, publishing two historical past books on northern California, writing poetry, touring, producing reams of unpublished manuscripts, and giving lectures aboard. luxurious cruise ships. Throughout the Gulf Battle, at age 66, he left with the Service provider Marines – the place he had served in World Battle II – spending three months aboard the SS Cape Juby delivering provides to US forces within the Persian Gulf. In 1994, glaucoma diminished his eyesight and he was compelled to retire.

“He was means forward of his time seeing the necessity for change,” Nick Xanthaky, then enterprise professor and former president of Salem State college, advised the Boston Globe shortly after my father was fired. As we speak, it’s extra true than ever. His imaginative and prescient of a “college with out partitions” has come to fruition due to the Web, permitting college students to check at their very own tempo, anyplace on the earth. School credit score for all times experiences has change into widespread follow. His work at Seattle’s Metropolis School foreshadowed right now’s billion-dollar, for-profit schooling trade, which has made accredited diploma applications extra extensively out there than ever earlier than. My father’s far-sighted passions didn’t finish there, nevertheless, spanning racial points, Catholic theology, Latin America, Irish historical past, colonialism, family tree, classical research, Western canon of Nice Books, and extra.

In 1979, throughout a go to to the North Shore, my father was interviewed by Muriel Cohen of the Boston Globe. After listening to him lyrically about his travels in Guyana and his newest makes an attempt to carry larger schooling to the lots, she concluded that “Keegan seems as a twentieth century La Mancha man leaning over windmills. . ” As a university junior, I believed it was an inexpensive shot. However now that demise, the unbeatable enemy, has claimed my father, I am proud that he dreamed the unattainable dream. As Don Quixote says, in a melody I hear my father sing: “And I do know if I’ll solely be true / To this superb quest / That my coronary heart will likely be peaceable and calm / Once I lie down.” “

Paul Keegan is a New York-based author.


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