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Epilogue | Cecil B. Keene Sr.

Students knew they had a friend in Mr. Keene

Cecil B. Keene Sr.

Cecil B. Keene Sr.

For decades, the smile of Cecil B. Keene Sr. lit the way for students at Gibbs High School and St. Petersburg College.

Before that, his smile had shined for his wife when he returned home injured from Italy in World War II.

In life, his smile was his most noticeable attribute. Or as his son, Cecil B. Keene Jr., put it, "He's ready to smile any time, all the time."

Mr. Keene, a Clearwater native, died Thursday after suffering internal bleeding behind the brain. A man so full of life, he asked not to be resuscitated. He ordered his family to host a closed-casket service.

He wanted to be remembered in life, not in death. He is remembered smiling.

• • •

After the war, Mr. Keene completed a degree at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and taught veterans in Tennessee.

In 1958, he moved back to Pinellas County to work as the dean of students of Gibbs Junior College (as St. Petersburg College was known then). He went on to serve as principal at Pinellas High School in Clearwater in 1965. Three years later he won that job at Gibbs High School. He returned to the college and served in various positions, eventually becoming a college trustee.

His son said Mr. Keene's approach to work was simple: don't just take a job, but take a job that you would enjoy doing.

With a stern but caring persona, he did just that, friends said.

He left an imprint on students' lives, said Deveron Gibbons, a friend and St. Petersburg College trustee. "He was the life of the party but also the person in the room with the wisdom who was willing to share," Gibbons said.

Mr. Keene was widely known at schools. And he was known for investing time in each student's personal growth. He would sit with them individually, reaching them on a level where they could laugh and joke with him, friends said.

But once class began, Keene was all business, serious in pursuit of teaching, because guiding students was his pleasure.

• • •

He fought in World War II's European theater, injuring his right femur in combat. It never fully healed as treatment included a full leg cast that caused his knee to atrophy. He took the injury good-naturedly. His wife, Bernice, said he would call her over to sit on his lap, asking her to "sit on his good leg."

The couple, who were married before the war, had a pact: Every morning before leaving the house and every evening when arriving home, a kiss was the only way of greeting or farewell.

On Tuesday, Mrs. Keene read Father's Day cards her husband had received this year. One card in particular was most poignant.

The card was from granddaughters Brittney and Ciera Keene, who live in St. Petersburg: "You've been good to me all of my life. I love you, Granddaddy."


Cecil B. Keene Sr.

Born: Nov. 21, 1923.

Died: July 10, 2008.

Survivors: wife Bernice; sons Cecil Jr., Chauncey and Cedric; sister Candice; granddaughters Brittney and Ciera.

Services: Memorial service at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at First Baptist Institutional Church, 3100 Third Ave. S.

Students knew they had a friend in Mr. Keene 07/15/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 18, 2008 10:34am]
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