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Class Notes

TRIBUTEJack Keil ’44: ‘The Funniest Man I Ever Knew’
keilNOTED ADVISOR: A longtime trustee, Keil established a prominent career in advertising. While still a student, he was called into the Air Force (below), before finishing his studies. (Photo: University Libraries/Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation)

I first met Jack Keil ’44 when I went to the University in 1941.

I left to serve during the war and graduated with the Class of ’47. In 1942, Jack was called into the Air Force, where he had a heroic career flying European missions over the oil fields and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his services as a bombardier navigator. He came back to the University to graduate with his class.

After the war, we were both in New York City. Jack had wanted to be an actor but ended up working for an advertising agency, and I worked in publishing. We had mutual friends, but we didn’t really get to know one another well until we were both University trustees and were appointed to the Library Trustee Visiting Committee, which became the Libraries’ Advisory Council. For a time, we chaired the committee together.

We were both very interested in the library. Both of us grew up in Rochester, and we were commuting students. We didn’t have any home on campus except the library, so we knew every inch of that place: the stacks, the study rooms, the reference room, the lounges, everything. We felt very warmly toward it.

keil (Photo: University Libraries/Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation)

When the University began its Campaign for the ’90s, we were concerned that the library didn’t have a prominent place in the budget, and that computers were giving people the idea that books and journals didn’t have much of a future.

Jack and I felt that the libraries needed some protection and promotion, so we went on a missionary journey for the libraries, with the support of four administrations over the years. They tolerated us at first and supported us as we went along for more than 20 years. With the help of past library deans Ron Dow and Susan Gibbons, we tried to keep the library as the center of the campus—which it was and which we believe it should be and continues to be under Mary Ann Mavrinac.

Jack, who died in August at his home in Vermont, loved the work we did at the library, and he and his wife, Barbara, endowed a position, the John M. and Barbara Keil University Archivist and Special Collections Librarian. First held by Nancy Erich Martin ’65, ’94 (MA), the position is occupied now by Melissa Mead.

Jack was one of the funniest men I have ever known. He was a performer, and he was good. He used to re-enact routines from the radio show Vic and Sade, and later, Bob and Ray. My wife, Janet, and I used to travel with him and Barbara. Once we were in a little airport down in the Caribbean, sitting in a coffee shop. Jack jumped up on a table, dancing and singing the Toyota jingle. He worked at the ad agency Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, where he was the creative director, and they’d just gotten the Toyota account. And then he sang the Cocoa Puffs song. And then he sat down again, and people didn’t know what to make of it. But that was Jack, and he’d do that any time, any place.

He once called me in my office and said the Ad Council wanted Dancer Fitzgerald Sample to do a public service campaign about crime. He invented the character of McGruff, the Crime Dog, and came up with McGruff’s signature phrase, “Take a Bite out of Crime.” He himself was the voice of McGruff for years. He loved doing it, and he kept doing it right up into his 80s.

Jack published a couple of books with John Wiley & Sons, the publisher for whom I worked: The Creative Mystique: How to Manage It, Nurture It, and Make It Pay (1985) and How to Zig in a Zagging World: Unleashing Your Hidden Creativity (1988).

A big-time jazz fan, Jack sang for years with a jazz combo at an inn in Saxons River, Vermont. He knew the words to everything. Even in his last days, he would go on Friday nights to join them. They loved it, and they played at his funeral.

He was always full of ideas, full of life, and saw fun in everything.

—Andrew Neilly ’47, as told to Kathleen McGarvey

Neilly was the president, CEO, and vice chairman of the board of publisher John Wiley & Sons in New York City prior to his retirement in 1995. With Keil, Neilly helped raised $10 million for the libraries. He and his wife also established the position of Andrew H. and Janet Dayton Neilly Dean of River Campus Libraries. Janet had the idea of a lecture series to bring the town and the campus together, and their endowed fund supports the Neilly Series Lectures, a public lecture series sponsored by the River Campus Libraries.