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Photojournalist Scott Keeler retires after storied career

Keeler spent 33 years at the Tampa Bay Times; he is ready to start a new chapter.
Scott Keeler is pictured in the Tampa Bay Times studio on Nov. 15, 2018.
Scott Keeler is pictured in the Tampa Bay Times studio on Nov. 15, 2018. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jan. 27
Updated Feb. 16

Scott Keeler remembers the catered lunch with other newcomers at the then-St. Petersburg Times. “I remember how enthusiastic I was in the beginning,” he said. “I thought, ‘You’ve come to a special place.’ ”

He ended up staying 33 years. Thirty-three years and nine months, to be exact.

This is his last week at the now Tampa Bay Times before retiring.

By the time Keeler, 62, started working for the Times, he had already shot for three newspapers — the Elizabeth Daily Journal and the Morris County Daily Record in his native New Jersey and the Tampa Tribune.

A Scott Keeler favorite: the always needed weather feature. Keeler became the go-to for a quick weather photo early in the day. Feature hunting would usually lead him to the sand on some local beach. Here he photographed a Don CeSar Beach Resort employee moving chaise cushions on a foggy day in 2015.
A Scott Keeler favorite: the always needed weather feature. Keeler became the go-to for a quick weather photo early in the day. Feature hunting would usually lead him to the sand on some local beach. Here he photographed a Don CeSar Beach Resort employee moving chaise cushions on a foggy day in 2015. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

When he joined the Times’ Pasco bureau, Keeler remembers a bustling department with 30 or 35 photographers. They covered stories across the state. “Any hurricane, we would go,” he said. He recalls a helicopter pilot on retainer to get aerial photos for breaking news. “He would pick us up in Pasco County.”

This Scott Keeler favorite, for a series about national parks written by Janet Keeler for the Latitudes section of the Tampa Bay Times, captures the reaction of Daniel Lim of Singapore on his first visit to the Grand Canyon, in July 2010. "It's so beautiful, can this be real?" Lim asked.
This Scott Keeler favorite, for a series about national parks written by Janet Keeler for the Latitudes section of the Tampa Bay Times, captures the reaction of Daniel Lim of Singapore on his first visit to the Grand Canyon, in July 2010. "It's so beautiful, can this be real?" Lim asked. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

He carried his first company-issued mobile phone in a bag the size of a duffel. It had a large antenna and came from RadioShack. Calls were about $20 a minute and the reception was terrible, but Keeler thought he was “so cool. Like something out of 007,” he remembers thinking.

He was working with a more modern flip phone when he covered the infamous Florida recount for the 2000 election in Tallahassee. Editors kept calling, “Is it ready, is it ready?” The presses were holding for Keeler’s photo of a late-night press conference by former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris. Hundreds of journalists had waited days for the results.

After President George Bush’s victory was certified, Keeler raced to an Eckerd’s pharmacy, where he had negotiated with an employee (for $300) to keep the store open late, so they could develop his film. Keeler transmitted the image using a film negative, in time for the next day’s front page.

Scott Keeler's photo of former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, during a press conference in Tallahassee, announcing the certification of Florida's votes for George Bush in the middle of the infamous Florida recount of the 2000 election. Getting this film picture, developed and transmitted was the most pressure Keeler had ever felt while on assignment.
Scott Keeler's photo of former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, during a press conference in Tallahassee, announcing the certification of Florida's votes for George Bush in the middle of the infamous Florida recount of the 2000 election. Getting this film picture, developed and transmitted was the most pressure Keeler had ever felt while on assignment. [ SCOTT KEELER | TIMES ]

At the Times, Keeler transitioned from black and white film to color, then to digital. He made his mark as the go-to for state government coverage. He’s worked for five photo editors, traveled for feature stories, captured countless weather shots, the typical “editor’s request,” been dubbed “Mr. Daily” and even met his wife, Janet Keeler, in the newsroom. She was a copy desk chief and later food and travel editor. Some of his favorite assignments were working with her.

A Scott Keeler favorite, from the trip of a lifetime: A growth of bougainvillea covers the slope behind the Church of the Beatitudes on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee, seen in the background, near Tabgha and Capernaum in northern Israel on Nov. 1, 2018. The view is looking south. It is here where Christians believe Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount, Chapters 5-7 in the Gospel according to Matthew, to his disciples.
A Scott Keeler favorite, from the trip of a lifetime: A growth of bougainvillea covers the slope behind the Church of the Beatitudes on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee, seen in the background, near Tabgha and Capernaum in northern Israel on Nov. 1, 2018. The view is looking south. It is here where Christians believe Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount, Chapters 5-7 in the Gospel according to Matthew, to his disciples. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

“When we traveled for the Times’ Latitudes section, he was fearless. I would wait below while he rode a helicopter to a glacier in Alaska, strapped himself into a small plane that followed California’s Highway 1 to capture the winding road or climbed to the top of a cathedral in Munich to get an overall of the Christmas market below,” Janet said in an email. “He always got the shot and made my work better, but the real winners were the readers.”

Clockwise from top left: Scott Keeler photographs the Pantheon in Rome in 2014; poses with a new friend in Jerusalem in 2019; smiles for a selfie with his wife, Janet Keeler, in Strasbourg, France, in 2019; and photographs oysters in New Orleans in 2013. Janet Keeler wrote about these trips as part of the Tampa Bay Times' travel coverage.
Clockwise from top left: Scott Keeler photographs the Pantheon in Rome in 2014; poses with a new friend in Jerusalem in 2019; smiles for a selfie with his wife, Janet Keeler, in Strasbourg, France, in 2019; and photographs oysters in New Orleans in 2013. Janet Keeler wrote about these trips as part of the Tampa Bay Times' travel coverage. [ JANET KEELER | Special to the Times ]

His colleagues became big fans.

“Working with [Scott] has been one of my favorite experiences at the Times,” said Tracey McManus, Clearwater and Scientology reporter. “He is an amazing journalist and such a genuine person.”

Mike Van Sickler, senior editor for politics, said Keeler “always managed to find the drama in the handshakes, backslaps, button-pushing, deal-making, demonstrating and speechifying at the Capitol.”

Chris Urso, assistant photography editor, said, “To use a bourbon reference, Scott is like taking a sip of some fine Pappy Van Winkle: sweet, spicy and a touch of burnt caramel.”

Keeler kept everyone informed, like a good journalist.

“Even after he retires, Scott will probably still have the best newsroom gossip, before anyone else,” said Colette Bancroft, book editor.

He has stories. So many stories.

A Friday football game in the late 1980s where he shot the kickoff but had to leave right after to get the photo back by deadline. “Remember, it’s film, you didn’t know what you had,” he said of that night at Pasco High School. He got two frames.

A train derailment in Zephyrhills in 2005 where boxcars full of Tropicana orange juice spilled out. “The helicopter pilot thought maybe we should go down and get some.”

Riding out Hurricane Charley’s 149 mph winds in 2004 with 30 other people, in the dark, at the Charlotte County Airport Administration building in Punta Gorda. Hurricane coverage is one aspect of the work that he says he won’t miss.

A Scott Keeler favorite, capturing the "decisive moment": Like most photojournalists, Keeler adapted to covering a pandemic. On June 24, 2020, he arrived at a local restaurant to document the disinfecting process after restaurant employees had tested positive for the coronavirus. He walked in and saw a worker spraying the map of Florida on the wall, which, coupled with news of rising cases in the state, created the rare "decisive moment."
A Scott Keeler favorite, capturing the "decisive moment": Like most photojournalists, Keeler adapted to covering a pandemic. On June 24, 2020, he arrived at a local restaurant to document the disinfecting process after restaurant employees had tested positive for the coronavirus. He walked in and saw a worker spraying the map of Florida on the wall, which, coupled with news of rising cases in the state, created the rare "decisive moment." [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

“Scott’s 38-year career as a photojournalist, particularly these three-plus decades at the Times, should be a book,” wrote Boyzell Hosey, deputy editor of photography, in announcing Keeler’s retirement. “His success came from amazing skills, incredible intellect and an affable personality. He became the ‘go-to’ in countless situations. His institutional and historical knowledge is irreplaceable, but we’ll hold on to the example and the wisdom that Scott modeled day in and day out.”

Tampa Bay Times photojournalist Scott Keeler, on assignment on a boat by the Sunshine Skyway bridge.
Tampa Bay Times photojournalist Scott Keeler, on assignment on a boat by the Sunshine Skyway bridge. [ TONY MARRERO | Times ]

He won’t stop shooting. “I’ll never stop that,” Keeler said. He plans to buy a mirrorless camera and a couple of lenses, keep his options open for freelance work. He also plans to stay in Florida, where he’s known to enjoy peaceful evenings on his condo balcony overlooking Boca Ciega Bay, with a bourbon and a cigar, while catching a sunset, a lightning shower or fireworks.

Keeler knows he’s been fortunate in his career. “It was a beautiful thing.”