Tomball, TX, Spring 2021. Photographer: Joseph MacMorran
A year ago from yesterday we lost a great and truly treasured member of our family, RET CAPT Cornelius Francis O'Keefe. The following is taken from his obituary:
" We lost Neil O'Keefe on December 29, 2020 to Covid-19. He was an amazing husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, and friend. He grew up in an Irish Catholic family in Nutley, NJ, the youngest of four children. He never did anything halfway. Even in his youth, he wasn’t just a Boy Scout. He worked at it until he became an Eagle Scout.
He married his high school sweetheart, Louise Del Favero, and together they raised 5 very strong-willed, expressive Irish-Italian children - Kathleen, Neil Jr., Martin, Susan and Chris. Family dinners with their kids were wonderful and boisterous, and friends were always welcome. Debates broke out over almost any subject, and Neil was the ultimate referee.
Neil’s older brother, Jim, attended the Naval Academy, and Neil also decided on a career as a Naval officer. He graduated from the NROTC program at the University of Michigan, and began his career working aboard the Destroyer Eugene A. Greene, but applied to Submarine School as soon as the rules allowed. He also served as an aide and Flag Lieutenant to three admirals in the Submarine Flotilla Two in Groton, Connecticut. While he was in the Navy, the family moved from Connecticut to Hawaii, and then to San Diego. He served aboard several submarines, including the USS Cobbler, USS Tigrone, the USS Tang, and served as XO on the USS Sailfish. In 1976, Neil he received a Masters of Science in Management with distinction from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Again, never doing anything halfway, he received three of the five academic awards given to the entire graduating class. After the family returned to San Diego, Neil shifted to amphibious ships, and served as the XO of the USS St. Louis, and then as the Captain of the USS Racine. He excelled wherever he served. Under his command, the Racine earned multiple awards for excellence.
In 1981, Louise suffered a catastrophic brain aneurysm, and was permanently disabled. At 40 years old, Neil was left to care for his wife, and to continue raising 5 teenagers on his own. An unimaginable task to be sure, but he never flinched. Where he could have buckled, this only deepened his faith as he brought the family together as a team. He put Louise and his family first. He managed to hold the family together, care for Louise, and worked at Naval Base Coronado teaching the Prospective Commanding Officer leadership courses to Naval officers.
His last, and one of his favorite posts in the Navy was serving as Professor of Naval Science, and the head of the NROTC programs at San Diego State University and the University of San Diego from 1984 to 1989. He enjoyed the opportunity to help train future officers - especially having been an NROTC Battalion Commander himself. He worked to expand the program at USD, and oversaw its move to its current, larger offices. He retired in 1989, but not before receiving a Meritorious Service Medal from the President of the United States for his outstanding service, and having two trees dedicated to him by the university outside the NROTC office at USD. He retired from the Navy to care for Louise full-time after most of the kids had graduated from school and began their own careers. He said it was his turn to be there, after the kids had pitched in while staying at home to attend college and to help care for Louise. He was the ultimate example of loving your partner in sickness and in health.
After Louise passed away, Neil was beyond blessed to meet his second soulmate, Iris Snedden. They married in 1997, surrounded by their combined family and friends. Iris' adult children, Richard and Lynn, joined Neil's to become a blended family of 7 children, and eventually 8 grandchildren. Together, Neil and Iris traveled the world on ocean cruises, river cruises, and all kinds of tours. They had huge family gatherings at their house, and they loved playing host to family and friends from around the world. They liked to refer to their house as the O'Keefe Family Bed & Breakfast. They hosted pool parties, BBQs, Easter-Egg hunts for the grandkids, and many family dinners. Neil walked everyday in the neighborhood, and knew all of his long-time neighbors. They attended school events for their grandkids as they grew, and were proud to attend their high school graduations, whether in California, Texas or Alabama. Following his faith, Neil and Iris served as Eucharistic Ministers for many years at St. Therese parish, and made many friends there as well.
In 2019, he and Iris moved to Huntsville, Alabama, so Iris could be close to her children, grandchildren, and new great-grandchildren. He thought it was only fair, since they had spent over 20 years living so close to his children.
While we are devastated to lose Neil, we are incredibly grateful for the amazing man and father he was. He loved and served his country with honor, but loved his family above all. He is survived by his loving wife, Iris, and children Kathleen and Ken Thomason, Neil Jr. and Liz O’Keefe, Martin and Patty O’Keefe, Susan and Michael Head, Chris O’Keefe, Richard Kursawski and Sharon Albright, Lynn and Ken Tverberg, grandchildren Jennifer O’Keefe, Andrew and Tina O’Keefe, Katie and Joseph MacMorran, Monica O’Keefe, Miles Head, Maggie and Brad Collins, Abby and Rhett Bulman, Mikaela Hayes, and great-grandchildren Emiliano Morales, and Beckett and Tucker Collins. His is a legacy of love."
Picking from the orange tree.
I didn't know Captain very well. He was still living in California when I was dating Katie. We visited a number of times between 2014 and 2018 and one of the things I loved about my visits to his home in San Diego, was the smell of freshly squeezed oranges.
There was an orange tree in the backyard and Katie and I would go out and pick them together. Katie would share so many stories with me about her grandpa. It was so easy to see why he was loved and the love that he had for his family.
Oranges have a different meaning to us now. They take on a flood of emotions, memories, and keep the spirit of Neil's story alive. And what I find so fascinating is the complexity of a citrus fruit such as the orange. Majority of citrus fruits thrive between the months of December and March. What fruit puts itself through the bitter cold of winter? What kind of game is that?
They have an extremely bitter skin, a thin membrane, and finally a sweet and juicy pulp once you reach the core. But then this fruit has the audacity to change its perception when you boil down the rinds in water, sugar, and cinnamon creating a symphony of sweet, sticky, and zesty goodness.
5 days before writing this post I bought a bag of oranges and yesterday Katie tried her hand at making a marmalade with them. I imagine it'll taste amazing. I know this because she put intention behind her process. Yesterday was a day of reflection and making orange marmalade was a beautiful way to share the memory of her grandfather. I just know that Captain was there with her.
In loving memory of RET CAPT Cornelius Francis O'Keefe. ⚓︎🍊