Originally published Thursday, April 11, 1957
The Only Newspaper in the World That Cares about Bainbridge Island
Funeral services for cigar-chomping Walter Keys, a rugged individualist who hid a generous heart under a gruff manner, will be held in Bainbridge Funeral Home, Winslow, at 1 o’clock tomorrow afternoon.
He died as he would have wanted to – at work. Seventy-five years old, he nevertheless had checked in early Tuesday morning, as usual, at Bainbridge Motor Company, the Winslow car sales, garage and service station which he founded and whose exterior he had just finished modernizing. Then he went a block north to Keys Lanes, the modern bowling alley which he built two years ago. There, at 11:55 in the morning, he suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack.
Whether the funeral home will be large enough for all those Islanders who called him either friend or benefactor or who recognized him as the one man who had done more than any other in the last two decades to help the Island and its inhabitants grow, was a good question.
The Rev. Vincent H. Gowen, priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Head of the Bay, will read the last rites, after which there will be a cremation. The honorary pallbearers are only a small potion of those Islanders who recognize the community’s loss: Dr. Frank L. Shepard, Bert Stretch, Hjalmer Anderson and Raymond Stephens, all of Winslow; Arnold Raber, Rockaway Beach; Louis Goller, Venice: Herbert Allen, Pleasant Beach; W. Mervyn Williams, Fletcher Bay.
Mr. Keys, a conservative Republican who had a low and vocal opinion of those who couldn’t make their own way without “cradle-to-grave security,” nevertheless was a generous man who was quick to help those who were down-and-out or who were struggling to make a new business or profession work. Few persons, other than the direct beneficiaries, however, ever knew of this kindly side of the man.
Another aspect of the man – a prolonged career in the military – was not disclosed to many until obituary details were released. Born in St. Louis, Mo., on January 18, 1882, he attended Culver Military Academy in Indiana, then served with the Army in the Spanish-American War.
Employed as a clerk in the St. Louis Stock Exchange shortly after the turn of the century – an experience which gave him his shrewd business ability – Mr. Keys re-enlisted in the Army and served in Seattle and Alaska with the Alaska Communication Division of the Signal Corps. World War I found him with that corps; he rose to captaincy before his discharge.
In 1919, he moved here – as a chicken farmer. He was the first person to deliver the Seattle dailies here by automobile. In 1924, he entered the taxicab business. Finally, in 1926, he entered the garage business which he was to build to such a success.
An ardent sportsman, he treasured memories and trophies of big game expeditions in British Columbia.
A leader in community affairs, he was a member of the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce. Other affiliations were Nile Temple, Shrine, Seattle, Colin Hyde Post, American Legion, Bainbridge Island Sportsmen’s Club, Disabled Officers Association, Washington, D.C.
Survivors include his widow, Mildred, living at the family home at Ferncliff; a son, Russell, a Winslow resident, a sister, Mrs. Olive Schroeder, Dallas, Texas, three grandchildren: one great-grandchild and a stepson, William Kem.
Mrs Keys late yesterday asked that tributes to her husband be in the form of contributions to the State Heart Association of which Mrs. Troy Dye, Eagledale, is the Island secretary.
What others say
The Review asked Islanders what Walter Keys, who died Tuesday, meant to Bainbridge Island.
Their comments were:
•Congressman Tom Petty, Country Club (by telegram from Washington, D.C.): The passing of my old and highly-esteemed friend, Walter Keys, came as a great shock to me. It was my privilege to have known Walt for the past 27 years. His death is not only a loss to me personally but also to the entire community which he served with devotion and unending effort. My condolences are extended to his family in this time of sorrow.
•R.B. (Bob) Rodal, Rolling Bay garage owner: We were competitors in business and enjoyed the most friendly relations. Over the past 30 years, I have worked with Walter Keys on many Island projects. He was always ready to help and gave generously. His passing will be a great loss to Bainbridge Island and we are certainly going to miss him.
•Herb Allen, Winslow department store owner: I shall always cherish the 25 years of close association in business, social and everyday friendship with Walt Keys. I find no words to express the many qualities of thoughtfulness, leadership and integrity he leaves for my memories.
•Lew Daughters, Eagledale grocer: Walt Keys so freely gave of himself for the Island, we can truly call him “Mr. Bainbridge Island.”
•Hjalmar E. Anderson, Winslow businessman: In the passing of Mr. Walter Keys I have lost a very dear friend of 40 years standing. Mr. Keys, in his business, was a man honest in his dealings with common sense, energy and initiative. Mr. Keys is going to be missed in his community. To say the least, we have lost a good citizen. My sympathies to those of his family remaining.
•Helen M. Perlatti, Lynwood Center Realtor: Bainbridge Island has lost a fellow who has been a great asset to the Island.
•Vann Bucklin, Point White: I don’t think there has been any man who has done more for his community, without fanfare, than Walt Keys.
•Thomas L. Bourns, MD, Wing Point: I’ve known Walt quite well since first coming to Bainbridge Island. He was very friendly to me personally and was very kind and
generous and a credit to his community.
•Emanuel Olson, Lynwood Center businessman: Walt Keys has certainly been an asset to Bainbridge Island and a very hard worker in the Island Chamber of Commerce. I feel he was very well thought of by all of his acquaintances.
•Lou Goller, president, Bainbridge Island Bank: Mr. Keys was one of the first men I met when I came to Bainbridge Island in 1948. When he was asked to join with me and others in seeking a bank charter, he gave him immediate support which has continued throughout the life of the bank. Close association with him taught me he was one of the finest assets the Island had. We will sorely miss his sure judgment on all matters affecting the bank. Although his philanthropic actions taken on behalf of the community were not a matter of conversation with him, I knew him to be among the most generous contributors in any worthwhile community need.
•G.E. Thompson, Winslow Mayor: Walt was a very close friend of mine and I admired him as a man standing up for his own convictions. He has been an ardent and courageous worker for development and good of the community.
•Henry Larson, Lynwood lumber dealer: I have known him ever since I was 12 years old, when he first came to the Island. He has always had the Island at heart and when something had to be done, people went to Walt Keys. He would tackle things that no one else would and he had confidence in the Island. He hustled at everything he did.
•Mrs. A. W. (Jack) Akers, Village variety store owner: He was a good friend of my father and mine for 25 years. It seems he was just a part of Bainbridge.
•Mrs. N. E. Bucklin, Wing Point: We have lost one of the best members of our community and no one on the Island knows the extent of good things he did. He was a
very generous person.
Spontaneous Tribute for Mr. Keys Turns into Organized Movement
Originally published in the Bainbridge Review, April 18, 1957
A spontaneous collection for a memorial for Walter Keys, the Island business leader and benefactor who died last week, quickly won formal organization and was gaining strength this week.
At Thursday night’s Chamber of Commerce board meeting, representatives from various localities found that, separately, they were collecting funds for the same purpose – some kind ofmemorial for the gruff man who gave so generously. As much, or more, money actually was collected in Lynwood Center than in Winslow, where Mr. Keys operated his business enterprises.
Upshot of the discussion was the appointment by Jack Gordon, Chamber president, of Frank Drebick, Winslow, to be chairman of a special Keys memorial committee. Serving with him were Robert Rodal, Rolling Bay automobile man; G. A. (Judd) Huney, Lynwood Center grocer, and Holger Christensen, Winslow, hardware dealer.
Contributions of any size were being accepted for the memorial at the Chamber office in the Review Building or at the Puget Sound Power and Light Company office, both in Winslow.