Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | Robert Gaylord "Bob" Keelean

Buick dealer and philanthropist Robert Keelean dies at 84

ST. PETERSBURG — For years, anyone passing a group of properties at Ninth Avenue N and Dr. M. L. King Jr. Street likely thought nothing of the man in grubby clothes, working in the yard.

Appearances deceive. That man, Robert Keelean, owned not only those properties but the largest Buick dealer in Pinellas County. Pulling weeds was one of his few "hobbies."

He also threw himself into civic work. He had served as president of both the Rotary Club of St. Petersburg and the Pinellas Park Chamber of Commerce, was deeply involved in the Suncoasters and chaired the Salvation Army's property committee. In 2008, his seven-figure gift led the way to expanding a Salvation Army home for teenagers in crisis.

Mr. Keelean never forgot his roots in a gritty Michigantown, or the effort he exerted to live a better life.

He died April 12, the result of ailments including congestive heart failure. He was 84.

"If you had a community full of Bob Keeleans, you'd have an Eden," said former St. Petersburg Mayor Bob Ulrich. "He made a living in the community, and he gave back to it in spades."

Born in Port Huron, Mich., Mr. Keelean told his family of an incident that left a mark on him.

"His brothers convinced him to jump over a fence and steal some grapes," said son-in-law Bill Doniel, a retired St. Petersburg police division chief. "He got caught."

As punishment, Mr. Keelean had to do community service at a Salvation Army.

After a hitch with the Army during the Korean War, he joined the Buick division of General Motors. He met Margaret Phipps while traveling as a regional representative. They married in 1953.

In 1963, he became the general manager of Faircloth Buick in Tampa, then Royal Buick.

In 1972, Mr. Keelean bought an interest in Adcock Buick in St. Petersburg, and bought it out six years later. In 1984 he moved the dealer from downtown to 9400 U.S. 19 N and changed its name to Keelean Buick.

"If you wanted to talk to Bob, you had to talk Buick," said Doniel, 70. "There was no other car, other than Buick."

He sold the dealership in 1988, in part because he did not want to sell multiple brands. At the time, Keelean Buick was the largest Buick dealership in Pinellas, second in the Tampa Bay area only to Royal Buick.

In retirement, Mr. Keelean stayed involved in civic activities and enjoyed watching Fox News Channel. Evidence of his good works can be found in many places, but especially in the Bob and Margaret Keelean Sallie House, which serves young people in crisis. It is running at full capacity, the Salvation Army said.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at or (727) 892-2248.


Robert Gaylord "Bob" Keelean

Born: Oct. 30, 1927

Died: April 12, 2012

Survivors: daughters, Kim Doniel and Lisa Keelean; son, Greg Keelean; and sisters, Mary Ronk and Janet Masters.

Service: 4 p.m. May 3 (visitation 3 p.m.); Salvation Army chapel, 3800 Ninth Ave. N. Interment at a later date at Florida National Cemetery.

Buick dealer and philanthropist Robert Keelean dies at 84 04/20/12 [Last modified: Friday, April 20, 2012 8:50pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. University student accused of making bomb threat on Snapchat


    DELAND — A Florida university student is accused of making threats on Snapchat to "bomb" or "gas" the campus.

    Stetson University freshman Griffin Powell, 18, is accused of making threats on Snapchat to "bomb" or "gas" the campus in DeLand.

  2. Tiki Barber will join his brother, Ronde, on Fox broadcast for Bucs-Giants


    FOX announced Monday night that former Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber will have a familiar face joining him as a guest analyst for the Oct. 1 Bucs-Giants game in Tampa: his twin brother Tiki, who will join …

    Tiki Barber, right, will join his brother, Ronde, left, as a guest analyst on the Oct. 1 Bucs-Giants broadcast on FOX. [Times files (2006)]
  3. Cannons will fire again when Bucs return to Raymond James Stadium


    As good as the Bucs looked in their season-opening 29-7 win against the Bears on Sunday, fans couldn't help but notice that the success didn't sound the same at Raymond James Stadium.

     Ron Gutschmidt is perched on top of the Buccaneer pirate ship ready to activate the ship's cannons with the press of a button after a Buccaneer touchdown. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
  4. Rick and Tom podcast: How should Joe Maddon be remembered tonight?

    The Heater

    Rick Stroud and Tom Jones talk about Joe Maddon's return to Tropicana Field for the first time since he left the Rays in 2014 in the latest edition of our Rick and Tom podcast. They discuss the mixed emotions …

    Joe Maddon returns to Tropicana Field tonight for the first time since he left the Rays in 2014. [Getty Images]
  5. Watch live: President Trump's speech to the U.N. General Assembly


    UNITED NATIONS — U.S. President Donald Trump and French leader Emmanuel Macron are expected to take the spotlight at the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations — but it's the tough global challenges from the nuclear threat in North Korea and the plight of Myanmar's minority Muslims to the …

    President Donald Trump shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron during a meeting at the Palace Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Monday, Sept. 18, 2017, in New York. [Associated Press]