The news of the passing of Don Keough, an Irish American legend and former President and COO of Coca-Cola, was followed by an outpouring of tributes from around the world.
From Ireland, the country Keough’s great-grandfather Michael departed in the 1840s, came words of thanks and respect from Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny.
“As one of Ireland’s greatest friends, Don built lasting business, cultural and education connections with Ireland which have helped thousands celebrate their own roots and forge new partnerships,” Kenny said in a statement.
“He was a valued member of the Global Irish Network and in recognition of his many services to the Irish nation he was awarded a Presidential Distinguished Service Award in 2013.
“Don Keough was one of Ireland’s finest sons and the establishment of Coca Cola plants in Wexford, Drogheda, Athy and Ballina are testament to his commitment to Ireland. We have lost a true friend.”
Across the Atlantic, Muhtar Kent, the Chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola, paid tribute to Keough in a company-wide memo. “We talk today about ‘brand love.’ Don understood those words at a deeply personal level. Our brands were something far more than products to him. They were a trust and a legacy; an asset beyond value and the key to our future.”
Keough, who retired from his role as Coke President and COO in 1993 (though he remained on the Board of Directors until 2013), shepherded the company through the Cola Wars of the 1980s and the tumultuous introduction of ‘New Coke’ in 1985 before it was replaced by the classic version.
“Don Keough was a celebrated business leader, a transformative philanthropist, a devout Catholic, a devoted husband and father, and a friend to so many who today mourn his passing,” said Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., President of Notre Dame, where Keough was Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Trustees.
“Don’s visionary leadership and generosity has had a profound impact on the University. He believed that we were put on earth to do good in the world, and his life tangibly demonstrated that faith. He has been a dear friend and cherished mentor whom I will miss terribly.”
But it was perhaps Keough’s longtime friend Warren Buffett who put it the best. “You can sum up Don Keough’s life in three words: Everybody loved him,” Buffett said in a statement.