Dr. Reuben George Keegan
Omnibus per artem fidemque prodesse
To Serve all with skill and fidelity
August 18th, 1938 - October 19th, 2022
Every once in a blue moon, nature,
environment, and mysterious genetic elements converge to create a wonderful human being too good for this world, this is the case of Dr. Reuben George Keegan, son of George Hamilton Keegan and Mary Muriel Sim. He was born on the 18th of August, 1938 in Graaf-Reinet, a small historical town in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, the youngest of four, following sisters Moyra and Hypatia, and his brother James. He lost his father on his fourteenth birthday on August 18th 1952. He graduated from Union High School in 1954 and began
Medical School at The University of Cape Town, the oldest university in Sub-Saharan Africa located on the slopes of Devil’s Peak. Like most 16-year-old boys, he
discovered that he preferred racing cars with his brother James to studying anatomy. They used pseudonyms when they raced, so their mother would not discover the truth and worry. He quit university after two years and worked full time as a quality control officer at the Ford Motor Company, a time, he admits, he felt lost even though he was driving the cars of his dreams, a Morgan Roadster in British Racing Green, a red MGA, a powder blue Alfa Romeo Spyder to name a few. In a twist of fate, a surprise visit to his Aunt Mary Sim in Ireland, resulted in the discovery that he was eligible for a scholarship founded by his own uncle, Dr. James Massey Keegan, for the University of Galway School of
Medicine, in Galway, Ireland, a rainy coastal town on the Atlantic shore. This time he applied himself, working twelve-hour days, living on a diet of corn flakes and cigarettes, every expense notated in a small notebook he kept in his left pocket. It was during his final year of medical school in 1968 that he met the beautiful widow, Mary
Catherine O’Mahoney, née Claffey and her four young children, Hayley, Nicola, James, and Joeanna. A reasonable man would have run as fast as his legs could carry him, but Dr. Reuben Keegan would be reasonable in most things in life with the notable exception of his wife Kay. They married on the 23rd of May 1970 and the young Doctor and his family immigrated to the United States.
He was a surgery intern then resident in Maricopa County Hospital, Phoenix, Arizona, one of the busiest emergency rooms in the country. He’d never worked harder, was on call continuously for over three years, he drove a white convertible with a red leather interior, as thin as a rail in his white scrubs, built a swimming pool in the backyard listening to Glen Campbell on the radio, while our mother Kay wore floor length dresses and made her own candles. It was during this time that he became a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and had two more children, Tara and Emmett, before moving to Kansas in 1974 and soon after, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he joined General Surgeons PC. In December 1976, Kay, suspecting the flu, discovered she was pregnant with her seventh child. In Dr. Schultz’ office, Dad said, dismayed: “How in the world did that happen,” with Dr. Schultz famously responding: “Would you like me to explain it to you Reuben.” Andrew was born in 1977 and the good doctor was now father of seven, which meant that for over the next twenty years, his calmest hours would be found in the emergency rooms of St. Luke’s and Mercy hospitals.
Becoming a good surgeon is a lifelong process. Dad became known for his skillful precision, his impeccable, almost invisible stitching, but most of all for his gentleness and warm empathetic bedside manner based on the respect he had for the intrinsic dignity present in all human beings. Fellow doctors and colleagues sent their friends and family to him, the highest of compliments in the medical world. The beeper beeped, the phone rang at all hours, signs of gratitude and unusual forms of payment arriving at the house in an endless supply of baked goods, hand-written cards, a yearly supply of fresh corn from a grateful farmer, an entire cow, a signed copy of an Alan Alda photo that said: “To the good doctor.” But to Dad, surgery was not work, but a service that warded him the unique ability to truly help people and save lives, and by doing so, make sense of his own life in this complicated world. “Find what you love,” was the
simple advice he gave his children. He practiced surgery for over thirty-two years, treating thousands of patients and establishing beautiful relationships within the tight-knit community of Cedar Rapids, before retiring in 2000, and if he ever decided to harbor a regret, which he didn’t, it would have been leaving too soon.
Dad loved to fly. As a pilot, he kept his legendary calm under the most difficult of circumstances; the loss of landing gear, terrible Midwestern turbulences and atmospheric disturbances, the inability to light the landing strip at Cedar Rapids Municipal airport at ten in the evening. He had one beautiful textbook crash landing in all his years as a pilot: “Hang on,” he’d said quietly into the headphones as our mother held onto the door flaps screaming.
Dad decreed Wednesdays as family nights, everybody fighting in the back seats of one of the only cars that could hold us all, a Chevrolet three-row, eight-seater silver gray Suburban, our mother finishing her make-up n the rear-view mirror, the kids fighting in the back. He loved to play tennis, drink a hot milky coffee with two tablespoons of sugar, could never resist a donut. He wondered at the inconsistencies of his children. When faced with a car running on empty, a host of parking tickets, terrible grades, he was mystified but also exhausted: “Good Lord, have I taught you nothing,” he would say.
His retirement was spent visiting his children, who decided the safest distance from each other was a comfortable 1,600-3,600 miles. He would visit for not more than three days because “visitors are like fish” reading the newspaper quietly in stores as my mother tried on sandals with tassels or boots with low heels. He navigated his winters in Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos archipelago, an island discovered during a national treasure hunt in Pilot’s Magazine in 1980 and summering in a small home on the banks of the river Shannon, in Athlone, Ireland. His relationship with our mother, who was unanimously voted as the most annoying person in our family, was one of extreme patience and unconditional love. This love never wavered, not for one second, in all their 52 years of marriage, and to see them together as they aged was so beautiful, it caused actual physical pain. It is in Ireland that Dad’s heart stopped beating on October 19th, 2022.
“I am the luckiest man alive,” he would say these past years smiling, but here, officially, his family would beg to differ. No Dad, we were the lucky ones. On behalf of our beloved mother Kay, brothers James, Emmett, and Andrew, sisters Hayley, Nicola, Joeanna, and Tara, grandchildren, Frances, Margaux, Sasha, Roman, Louella, Owen, Kylene, Cora and Aemon, we would like to thank Dr. Reuben George Keegan for everything, there are no words to express the gratitude we feel, nothing to measure the pride we take in every aspect of your life. Thank you Dad from the bottom of our hearts. Now break through those clouds and fly into a glorious red and gold sunset knowing that the pain of losing you will never, ever come close to the joy of having had such a wonderful human being in our lives.
Donations may be made in the name of Dr. Reuben George Keegan for the James Massey Keegan Scholarship at the University of Galway School of Medicine Galway, Ireland.
https://guf.ie/donate-us.html Choose: I wish to support: Student Scholarships. Under: Leave a comment, specify: James Massey Keegan Scholarship on behalf of Dr. Reuben George Keegan.
Information on the James Massey Keegan Scholarship: https://www.universityofgalway.ie/undergraduate-scholarships/james-massey-keegan-scholarship/