In Memorium – John “Jack” Kelly Keane, Esq
John “Jack” Kelly Keane, Esq.
By James Ignatius Keane, Esq. – First Cousin
Jack Keane passed away this year, leaving behind the legacy of a distinguished legal career that grew to national prominence, but it was the home grown – almost to the end – in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Jack was part of a clan of lawyers who practiced in Prince George’s County since the 1930’s. Jack rose to become the General Counsel of the Washington Gas Light Company before his retirement in 2001, when he moved to Bradenton, Fl to enjoy golf, his children (John, Brian, Molly and Martin) as well as the children of his wife Margaret.
Jack was born and raised in Riverdale on Sheridan Street right off of US Rt. 1 and now an extension of Rt. 410 with the high railroad bridge. His father John K. Keane was a lawyer, in partnership with his brother, Ignatius, both of whom were members of the Prince George’s County Bar as well. In the 1940’s the firm was Keane & Keane of Hyattsville, but Jack’s father and namesake passed away in the 40’s, leaving his brother, Ignatius ( a prominent criminal defense lawyer) to carry on. The firm had become Keane, DePaul & Willoner by the time Jack clerked there part-time in the mid 60”s with his uncle “Iggy” as he earned his JD degree (Georgetown 1966)
While preparing for the Maryland bar exam, he also clerked for Judge Ralph Powers. Jack and Judge Powers shared a military background. Jack had graduated on the Dean’s list from West Point and served in the Army Corp of Engineers. He even did stint as a White House aide but did not get the same attention from the residents as his cotemporary aide de camp, Chuck Robb.
Jack’s family was actively involved in Hyattsville and Prince George’ County politics. The Maryland archives record that his father was a Justice of the Peace in 1936-37. His mother was a grade school teacher in Hyattsville. (Jack went to St. Jerome’s grade school and then to North Western High School). She served on the County Board of Zoning Appeals from 1963 to 1967. Jack jumped into an active law practice after clerking for Judge Powers, joining Bill Dunn in what became the law firm of Dunn, Keane and Malzone.
But Politics called. Jack was appointed the Maryland People’s Counsel in 1976. He handled over 500 docketed cases in the following decade before bodies such as the Federal Power Commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Interstate Commerce Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission. One of his cases made it all the way to the Supreme Court, in a successful challenge to the first use tax on natural gas. Maryland v Louisiana 46 U.S. 1119 (1981).
Jack rose to prominence when he became senior vice president and General Counsel of the Washington Gas Light Company for over a decade until his retirement in 2001.
He was active in the Prince George’s County Bar from his earliest days as a young lawyer. He was also a member of the Amercian Bar Association, the Maryland State Bar Association, The Washington DC Bar, and the Energy Bar Association. He served on the various charitable boards as well, including the Cystic Fibrosis Strategic Council, Catholic Charities for the Archbishop of Washington DC, the Rachel’s Women Center, the Prince George’s Hospital Foundation and the Council for Court Excellence.
Jack was a well known and well liked, with a charming sense of humor combined with legendary Irish wit and family stories. One of the family legends was that some grand uncles who migrated to Australia and California possibly accompanied temporarily Jack’s grandfather. In researching for the sad duty of preparing an obituary, I could not find any good material on the Web about or “John Keane”, so I searched for “Jack Keane” and hit gold – literally – finding several websites about “Keane Wonder Mine” in Death Valley California, discovered by a Jack Keane of Ballyrat, Ireland. The mine site is now a national historic monument. (See http://www.Ghosttown.info/ca/keanewondernmine). None of the gold made its way to the members of the Keane clan in Prince George’s County, however they all worked for a living and became doctors and lawyers. Jack Keane’s career as a lawyer took him to national prominence, but he always cherished his roots in the Prince George’s Bar Association.
Shortly before his death Jack sent this e-mail message to the PGCBA.
“ Special greetings to all members of the Prince George’s County Bar Association for a banner 2003, flowering with ethics, respect, civility, humility ,and client service. To the judges: get to trial, be decisive, judge and instruct community values. Leave it to counsel and the parties to settle if the might (they will).
With justice to all.