Walking with my dad
Author: Sharon Keane (ND '84, Director of ND Alumni Association Professional and Academic Programs)
Ahead of the fitness craze and serious about his health, my domer Dad, Jack Keane (BS Commerce ’52), started running in 1962 and didn’t stop until he was 79 (he was jogging at that point). He was a curiosity. Some neighbors would call us, confused and concerned, to ask if everything was OK with Jack. Running helped him clear his head, get fresh ideas, solve problems and find more energy. While running, he paid attention to his very next footstep on his route while also pacing himself for the full workout.
And that’s how he lived.
My Dad was a true learner and I have the evidence. Lots of it.
While sorting through my Dad’s voluminous files, I recently discovered an envelope simply labeled “O’Connor letter.” Inside, on College of Business Office of the Dean stationery, was his letter to the Honorable U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. In 1984, she had given the Oath of Office as he was sworn in as the director of the U.S. Census Bureau. Anyone who has received a letter from Dad knows note writing was one of his strengths. His letters were personal, well written and inspirational. In this letter, he thanked and encouraged Justice O’Connor — incorporating four lines from Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. The lines read:
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
And miles to go before I sleep.”
In that same envelope was Justice O’Connor’s response written on Supreme Court stationery wishing him, “May we both complete many wondrous miles before we sleep.” And he did.
Dad began consuming the Bureau’s work as a doctoral student and became a real fan over the next 25 years before he was the director. In that role, I watched Dad prepare to testify before Congress. The prep involved a favorite couch and at least two supersized binders tabbed and stuffed with pages (upon pages) of statements, remarks, talking points, data, statistics, tables and historical information that, ideally, he would commit to memory.
Impossible. Inhuman, I thought. Must do, he thought. He studied patiently and thoroughly. He testified 43 times.
On the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, official Census Bureau business brought my Dad to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) where I was an entry-level government analyst. I recall being surprised to see him in my workplace. There he and his team were walking in my direction and there I was quickly determining a professional greeting. What do I call him? Dad? Jack? Director? I went with Dad.
Fast forward to Notre Dame and the College of Business. Working in Mendoza as we did — he at the end of his career and me in the middle of mine — was a golden opportunity for him to help me shine. While attending College events, he would often say that he was there with me as if he wasn’t the business school’s most recent dean emeritus, former Census Bureau director and true leader. Not likely with his service to his country, College leadership role and mentor to multitudes. Then and now, I see it as one of the ways he stood with me.
The business school building stands, to a great degree, because of Dad’s leadership and vision. He understood the force for good business can be. He recognized that Notre Dame was at a competitive disadvantage and worked to develop a first-rate facility. Similarly, I worked closely on the Stayer Center for Executive Education building. The two buildings stand next to one another and I just love that. Where else would that happen?
He once arrived late to a Mendoza faculty meeting, coffee in hand, just as I was at the front of the room giving departmental plans for Executive Education. I wonder what his reaction would have been if I had paused mid-presentation to ask, “Sir, your hall pass, please?” I have no doubt his remarks would outwit mine.
Throughout my life I’ve often been next to my Dad professionally, socially, reputationally. No better place. And that’s where I was witnessing Dad recounting and reviewing his 89 years. What a life he had. I’ll be forever grateful for him and his example of integrity, service, and kindness in motion. It’s most fitting that he now rests at his beloved Notre Dame.
Sharon Keane (ND ’84) is the daughter of Jack Keane. She worked in Executive Education from 2000-2011, serving as director for five years, and now serves as director of professional and alumni education programs with the Notre Dame Alumni Association.