“It must have been devastating for him, but he never showed it. He was a great role model for me,” Keough says.
Keough traces his Irish roots to his great-grandfather, Michael, who came from New Ross, Co. Wexford to the U.S on board the ship the Dunbrody in 1847. (Patrick J. Kennedy, the great-grandfather of JFK, would set sail from New Ross for America two years later.) Michael later married a woman called Honora Bourke, and settled in Iowa.
He enlisted in the Navy and after serving two years, went to Creighton University on the G.I. Bill. He began his career in television and radio, and moved on to marketing for a food company, which was acquired by Coca-Cola in 1964. He became president of Coca-Cola in 1974.
Keough, who lives in Atlanta, stepped down from his position in the company in 1993, having served as president, chief operating officer, and director of the worldwide Coca-Cola Company. He is currently the chairman of Allen & Company, an investment banking firm in New York.
Keough’s pride in his Irish heritage remained constant throughout his working life. And after a career in corporate America he turned to a venture of a different kind – investing in Irish studies.
In 1993, with an endowment of $2.5 million, he established the Keough Institute of Irish Studies at Notre Dame, and the Keough Notre Dame Centre in Dublin, Ireland. “Notre Dame didn’t have any type of academic Irish studies program. It just seemed like a natural fit to me,” Keough said. Today, over 400 students are part of Notre Dame’s Irish Studies Program.
Keough is the recipient of numerous honors, including the Horatio Alger Award and the Notre Dame Laetare Medal. In June, 2007, he was granted Irish citizenship, something he celebrated by taking his wife Mickie, his children and grandchildren on a trip to Ireland.
His first book, “The Ten Commandments for Business Failure,” was released last year. He uses his 60 years of business experience to highlight the challenges and obstacles faced in business.
Keough has received honorary doctorates from the University of Notre Dame, as well as from Trinity College, Dublin, and University College Dublin, amongst others.