The Corporate Chieftain
On November 30, Donald Keough was the first honoree to be inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame, which has just been established by Irish America magazine. The following is a glimpse of Mr. Keough’s extraordinary life story.
A Life in America
The rise of the Keough family from the prairies to the pinnacle of Wall Street is the story of Irish America in microcosm. If the immigrant Michael Keough could see his great-grandson today, what would he think? He would recognize in Don Keough the classic Irish immigrant values of commitment to family and faith, community and country, hard work, determination, good humor, lack of pretentiousness, unflagging energy, an ability to adapt to fresh challenges, an attitude that people should wear out, not rust out. The poet Robert Frost said of America: “Our most precious heritage is what we haven’t in our possession – what we haven’t made, and so have still to make.” Don Keough embodies the possibility of America, its dynamism, its optimism and its can-do spirit.
Donald Keough’s great-grandfather Michael Keough left County Wexford in the 1840s and arrived in America where he married Hanora Burke. Then only seventeen years old, Hanora gave birth to a son, John, the year they married. The courageous young newly-weds went on to have nine children between 1848 and 1875, settling on the prairies of northwest Iowa to become sodbusters, farmers and cattlemen.
No doubt it was the notion of stepping off their own acreage that brought Michael and Hanora to the plains, yet they must have felt lonely for the hills, trees and mountains they left behind in Ireland. It would be almost a century before any of their descendants made it back to the land of their birth.
The Iowa winters were harsh and Michael and his sons had to drive their horses miles to chop down wood so that the family would survive. Then there were the grasshopper plagues of 1874, 75 and 76 that swept across Iowa like a biblical swarm of locusts. But Michael Keough was tough and so were his sons. By the time he passed away on October 2, 1904, the family had solid roots in America.
John continued homesteading, growing oats and potatoes and raising cattle after his father passed away. He married Kate Foley, the daughter of a businessman, and they had four sons: Leo, Lloyd, Verne and Frank.
Later in life, John’s sons recalled that their father had worked them almost to breaking point, not out of harshness, but the need to survive. When John expired just one week after building “a fine new modern home” for his family, the responsibility for the farm fell on Leo, the eldest son.
It was on this farm that Donald Keough was born in 1926, the youngest of Leo and his wife Veronica’s three sons.
Don remembers his father Leo as a man of sunny outlook, a disciplined, hardworking man who never let his family down. After a fire burned the family home to the ground and everything was lost with the exception of Hanora’s Irish wedding shawl and the family Bible, Leo moved the family to Sioux City where he found work in the stockyard.
“He had the ability to look at forty head of cattle and the intuitive knowledge to know within five pounds what each weighed,” Don recalled in an interview with Niall O’Dowd.
As a 15-year-old, Don learned the sales patter and how to negotiate and close a deal. When he got suckered in a small deal, he learned a valuable lesson: “Watch the cattle, not the man,” his boss told him. In other words, know what you are buying and don’t be influenced by the hype of the person selling.
“There is no question that everything I know about business I learned in that stockyard. I learned how to weigh someone up, to know the weakness and strength of your own position, and realize the fundamentals – that he wants to sell and you have the money to buy, and leverage that,” he told O’Dowd.
Don’s mother, a schoolteacher, was determined that her sons would have the best education possible. “My mother was tough but loving,” Don remembered. “She never spared you because she knew we were in tough circumstances and that education and self-reliance were the way out.”
- The New York Times questions Ireland’s highly-p
- Gay wedding cakes latest target of anti-gay...
- Bah! Humbug! The ten worst things about Christm
- Spanish judge slams Ryanair’s sexist air...
- Racist incidents in Ireland up by 85 percent...
- No Irish prosecution for man named as world’s...
- Offensive NFL sign outside restaurant just...
- Ireland crowned “Top Tourist Destination”...
- An open letter in strong defence of capitalism.
- Dublin cops foil hit on drug kingpin John...