Robert T. O'Keeffe (1944 - 2020)



Terry O’Keeffe died suddenly of a stroke Wednesday, February 5. Here are the online obituary and the PAW Memorial.


Terry came to Princeton from Mount Saint Joseph HS in Baltimore. HE originally majored in architecture but dropped out senior year and returned to graduate in 1971 as an art history major. He then went on to Rutgers to study anthropology. From there, his path was "not the decision path followed by a polymath, rather that of a chancer", and he performed research in animal behavior. Terry's interests and accomplishments were wide-ranging. One example is his "66 Story" Nixon in Berlinand another is this note from Ward Coe '67.

"He was one of the top milers in the country, losing one indoor race to Jim Ryun by a nose. He was a great linguist, mastering many languages, including Hungarian – well enough to be published in Hungarian literary magazines. I was the lucky recipient of his email correspondence, which included his wildly imaginative literary output (The Man Who Fed Pavlov’s Dog comes to mind), some of which got published in  journals."


After retirement, Terry pursued his literary interests and wrote the first in-depth treatment in English of E. E. Kisch’s work as a playwright, High Treason and Low Comedy: Egon Erwin Kisch’s Cabaret Plays as History and Art, to be published April 22. The book includes translations from German of two of Kisch's most popular plays.


Terry's Photos and Memories

These two photos, which go back to my ‘glory days’ (such as they were) as a runner at Princeton.  The first shows me in a ‘dead heat’ finish at the 1965 IC4A championships in the 1,000 yard run – the venue was the old Madison Square Garden.  It comes from the sports page of either the NY Daily News, or maybe The Post.  I had more gas left in my tank than either Carroll or Bauer, but they ran me up to the outside rim on the tight turns of the indoor track each time I tried to pass them, so I should have thought about this earlier in the race.  Carroll was a very good Irish middle-distance runner (and two-time Olympian) recruited by Villanova.  This race, plus another very good time that I ran earlier in the season, got me invited to the NCAA championships, held at Cobo Hall in Detroit.  Unfortunately I finished 5th there – I had a bad race and should have come in at 2nd or 3rd (I don’t think I could have beaten the guy who won, Robin Lingle, from the University of Missouri).  The other photo shows Princeton’s two-mile relay team, on which I ran the anchor leg – it’s from the IC4A program for 1967, which showed highlights of the 1966 meet.  Ross Odell and I were seniors (class of ’66), and Al Andreini and Jack Endrikat were sophomores at the time.  Ross and Al were good milers, and Jack proved to be a better half-miler than I was, breaking any university records I had.  In 1966 the judges declared us the winners, we took a victory lap, and 20 minutes later they made an announcement reversing the decision in Fordham’s favor – I went through the tape at chest level, while their guy, Jack Fath, took a headlong dive, and apparently his face broke the line before my chest (strictly speaking this was a no-no, but nothing could be done about it).  I’d forgotten most of this until coming across the photos while going through boxes of my mother’s papers about 10 years after she died in 1992.   Otherwise I’d have no souvenirs from those days.




Classmate Memories

Ron Landeck

"The Blade" was indeed a unique, irreverent, entertaining and intellectually curious person.  We had a special bond, which is Irvington, home to Mt. St. Joe.  I grew up in Irvington from kindergarten through 8th grade, attending P.S. 71 on Old Frederick Road and Gwynns Falls Park Junior High on Hilton Avenue. His home in Catonsville was within a couple miles of mine, and, although our paths didn’t cross there, we discovered we had mutual friends and used to frequent the same haunts, including riding the #8 streetcar that went from Catonsville to Towson via downtown Baltimore with a transfer on “The Block.”  We shared many a discussion about Baltimore over the years, always finding time for a late-night sit down at Reunions over a beer and, for him, a stogie to swap stories and laugh. I loved the guy.  He befuddled all of us at Princeton when in the spring of 1966 as captain of the track team he sold his classical record collection, used the money to purchase a ticket on Icelandic Air and flew to Ireland.  I think Viet Nam weighed heavy on him at the time. He was principled to the core.


I will miss him.  We all will miss him and his take on life.  He has left his imprint on me and, for that, I am eternally grateful. Rest in peace, Blade. May your family be enriched from your memory.

Kit Mill

Terry was in Tiger Inn.  We called him The Blade.  Check out how thin he in '65 when he finished slightly behind the Villanova and St. John's guy.  He frequently, had a beard only on his neck.  He'd shave his face clean and leave the hair under his chin.  It would grow to 4/5".  Crazy, wonderful man.


Kit attended the February 10 funeral mass and reports:


"Yesterday, I followed Bob Nahas's trip (Bob's report to be added soon) to attend Terry's wake on Sunday with an appearance on Monday at his Funeral Mass at St. Margaret's Church in Pearl River, NY, a town on the New York/New Jersey border just off the Palisades Parkway.

"Pearl River looks like it's been there forever---old, one-off shops, a large train station in the center of town, restaurants and saloons. St. Margaret's was at the top of what looked like the tallest point in Pearl River.  Inside, the Church was magnificent and relatively small, maybe 200 seats in the pews with high beamed ceilings, Irish crests carved in the frieze.  With bagpipes playing at a distance (outside the Church), Terry's closed coffin was carried/rolled in by 10 pallbearers and placed in front of the alter.  The Church was packed.  It was a High Mass.  This Congregationalist was out of place.  The service was powerful; it was clear that every person in the Church seems to have known Terry and Joanne and cared deeply about both of them.  A tenor sang Amazing Grace and Ave Maria.  At the end of the service two Army corporals brought in an American flag and draped the flag over Terry's coffin. This is available to anyone who served in the military.  Terry served in Viet Nam, something I didn't know.  The organ softly played Taps.  No dry eyes.  The flag was foldled and given to Joanne.  Service over.  Coffin taken out to the muted sounds of the bagpiper.  Good bye, Blade."

Ward Coe '67

This is sad news about one of the great TI characters, Terry (the Blade) O’keefe, who came to our 50th although he was in ’66 and ’71. He was a great friend of Rick Berndt’s the sr guy here, growing up in the Catonsville area and going to St Joseph’s, hence the notice from Rick’s secretary. He was one of the top milers in the country, losing one indoor race to Jim Ryun by a nose. He was a great linguist, mastering many languages, including Hungarian – well enough to be published in Hungarian literary magazines. I was the lucky recipient of his email correspondence, which included his wildly imaginative literary output (The Man Who Fed Pavlov’s Dog comes to mind), some of which got published in  journals. Terry was a regular visitor to Baltimore, where women (including Christie and Vanessa) would compete to get the chair next to him at the dinner table so they’d be kept in stiches all night.

Ernie Hutton

Rest in Peace, Terry! He and I often commiserated as fellow suffering architecture students (I still remember his nemesis Michael Graves incessantly scolding him, 'MISTER O’Keeffe…').  I unexpectedly ran into him years later on a project tour of the Pearl River NY primate center where he had become, as he put it in a subsequent email, an expert in “monkey social behavior and psychiatric drugs”— not as divergent a change from architecture school as one might think. Prior to our 50th reunion he sent me articles about Donald Trump and Jane Jacobs (Terry saw some irony in the juxtaposition), as well as wholly unexpected links to self-researched books he had written on post World War One Central European history and culture, which we discussed at some length a few weeks later on campus. As always,Terry followed his interests in strange but rewarding directions— a true original!

Bob Nahas

I went to the wake yesterday (Feb 9). Terry was wearing his 50th jacket and his fedora was alongside him.


Since he hadn’t been ill, he looked like he did the last time we saw him. I almost expected him to sit up and say he was just kidding.


He won $2500 Sunday in a super bowl pool and was delighted and looking forward to spending it.

Massive stroke Monday. By Wednesday, doctors said he wouldn’t speak and would  be completely paralyzed. Family knew he would not want to live like that.

Joanne was grateful for the outpouring of sympathy from the class and for all the detail on his memorial page.

Mike Witte

Sunday I attended the viewing prior to Terry O’Keefe’s funeral. I wore my 50th Reunion jacket. While standing in a long line of non-Princetonians, I began to feel a bit self-conscious and Sally suggested that I take the jacket off so that I not become “over-heated.” When the line turned into the main room, I scanned the room and saw no like jackets, then looked left an saw one; it was worn by Terry, resting peacefully in his casket.I became very emotional as I proudly put the jacket back on."


John Hart

After a deep probe of distant memories, I realized that Terry was the first future classmate I met, other than the 8 other guys from Gilman (a Baltimore day school with a long history as a Princeton feeder). The occasion was a 1962 post-acceptance party hosted by the Princeton Association of Maryland. I recall chatting with Terry and learned about his plans to major in architecture. A great guy for sure, but I doubt we ever crossed paths at Princeton. Terry next appeared on my radar screen before the 50th when he contacted me about a piece he was writing about his 1963 encounter with Nixon in Berlin. Would it be possible to put it on the website somewhere, and, if so, where? We came up with the idea of a separate page of "66 Stories", and his Nixon in Berlin (highly recommended, BTW), and we now have about 16 stories, including a final one from Terry. We kept in touch and talked again at the 51st reunion when Terry was excited about his post-retirement studies of the playwright E. E. Kisch’ He was hard at work on a book and looking for a publisher. Our conversation tailed off as reunion excitement swirled around us, but High Treason and Low Comedy: Egon Erwin Kisch’s Cabaret Plays as History and Art will be published April 22. I've ordered a copy and am looking forward to continuing the conversation.

Autobiographical Sketches

Terry's responses to the class birthday cards are collected in the '66 Story A Life Through Responses to the Class Birthday Cards.

More Photos


Joanne and Terry at the 51st and in Slovenia in 2011.


Left: My wife, Joanne, and I are seen here during a trip we took to the Baltic States in 2012. We're sitting in a tram stopped at its terminal loop on the outskirts of Riga, Latvia. The shot was taken by Alex, a local kid I met in the Old Town main square and hired to give us a personal tour. He promised to show us not only all the standard sights that the group tour-leaders took everyone to see, but to also take us "to shitty parts of city no tourists ever see" and to accompany this with his "personal dialectical history" of Latvia - all in all a very entertaining, and even informative, day. Right: Joanne in Vilnius.