ST. PETERSBURG — Michael Keefer had all of the tools a nonprofit CEO needs. He related easily to people and could supply facts and figures with total recall to sell a worthy cause.
A common thread — that of helping people undergoing difficult or challenging times — tied several jobs together.
A personal connection animated his work as head of the Lupus Foundation of Florida, leading to some of the best work of his career: His wife has the disease.
Mr. Keefer, who was president and CEO of the Lupus Foundation of Florida, died Nov. 16 of melanoma. He was 61.
"Mike was an extremely competent fundraiser," said Blanton Garnett, Lupus Foundation of Florida board member and longtime friend. "But when you married that with his personal connection to lupus, it gave him something extra. It was actually inspiring and highly effective."
Mr. Keefer was a master of arcane trivia and simple pleasures.
"He could have gone on Jeopardy," said Maggi McQueen, his wife. "He was everybody's lifeline."
He was also a sports fan, and had rigged his smart phone to sound alerts updating the progress of any game he was following. Mr. Keefer attended Bucs, Rays and Gators games when he could, savoring the hot dogs and the camaraderie.
"It was the experience of the event, much more than win-lose or anything else," said Garnett, 52.
Mr. Keefer was born in Pittsburgh. He moved to St. Petersburg in 1973.
For a time, he had his own mortgage company. He was working at Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home when he met Maggi McQueen, who was running the family business with her two brothers.
The second marriage for each proved a charm. Both were stout Democrats who finished each other's sentences. She laughed at his frequent imitations of Marlon Brando in The Godfather, and could often supply answers to the few trivia questions that stumped him.
Through her, Mr. Keefer learned about lupus, an autoimmune disease considered both serious and usually manageable. He volunteered with the Greater Florida Chapter of the Lupus Foundation of America, becoming executive director of the chapter in 2004.
The chapter has since formed as its own organization, the Lupus Foundation of Florida. McQueen chairs its board of directors.
In April, Mr. Keefer finally found a patient he couldn't help — himself. Doctors diagnosed late-stage melanoma. He fought the disease with an upbeat attitude.
On Monday at Anderson-McQueen, the Rev. Ron McQueen, an extended family member, called Mr. Keefer "the kind of person who leaves you better than when he found you."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2248.