Choose Your Seat and Sit Down!

Yesterday evening a friend from back home called to inform me that our former drama director from high school, Tim Keogh, passed away yesterday morning from cancer.  While searching for his obituary this morning, I came across this article about him from February.  It tells you a lot about Tim and how he was handling his cancer, with faith in God and hope.  The article touches on his role as a principal and how committed he was to educating children and gives a few of examples about how he cared about each student outside of the classroom as well.  The article barely scratches the surface of the man that I knew, though, and I didn’t know him as well as some.  Here are some things that I knew about Tim Keogh in the short time that I knew him.

Tim was a talented singer, actor, and director.  His voice could inspire anyone whether on-stage or leading a congregation in song at Mass.  He performed with almost every professional theater group in Louisville.  At the time I knew him, he was mainly involved with Music Theater Louisville.  He starred in their productions of 1776 and The Secret Garden.  Once I sat in front of him when he was the assistant director for a production of Brigadoon and cracked up listening to him critique a performance; I realized that he had always held our meager high school theater group to the same level as the professional groups he worked with.  He taught us so much about acting and technical aspects of theater in his very no-nonsense way.

I joined the drama program my junior year of high school.  This was the year that Tim decided that he finally had the right members to do a production of Godspell.  It was one of the most special experiences of my life.  We had such intense rehearsals, and when we weren’t rehearsing, the cast often hung out together.  When it was over, the whole cast was in tears.  We just didn’t know what to do with ourselves.  No other production we did came close to that level of intensity.  I know that it was because of Tim and his unique interpretation of the show.

Tim was a good and compassionate man.  He was a surrogate father to a boy who became my best friend in high school.  It was Tim who had helped him get financial aid to attend DeSales High School.  My friend’s mother had some severe mental problems, so Tim was his parental anchor.  When his mother was finally deemed unfit to care for herself or others, Tim took him in so that my friend could finish out his senior year, and Tim assisted him in getting the finances to attend the selective and expensive college of his choice.

Tim had a great, flamboyant , and sometimes biting sense of humor.  To the actor who did  an incorrect turn on stage, Tim would holler out, “No one is paying to see your ass!”  And he had just as much fun as the rest of us when the annual drama banquet always ended with a water gun fight.  Once to demonstrate a stage kiss for a couple that was being robotic, he grabbed a female teacher who was one of his best friends and planted the biggest kiss on her.  It was hilarious.

For me personally, Tim was a great mentor.  Besides everything he taught me about theater, he also allowed me to shadow him one day when I was considering becoming a certified teacher.  He gave me the courage to audition in my senior year rather than just work on technical aspects.  On my 18th birthday I dyed my hair auburn; I wanted to be someone new and different.  Later that day, I saw Tim and he said, “It looks fine, but I don’t know why you did that.  You looked so beautiful just the way you were.”  It was the first time I remember anyone outside my family telling me that I was beautiful, and it was one of the most sincere compliments I ever got in my life.

There’s one other thing about Tim that anyone who knew him would tell you, although it probably won’t make it into any obituary.  Tim gave the absolute best hugs.  Whenever Tim hugged you, it made you feel so loved, protected, and special.  It isn’t just me; I’ve talked to other people, male and female, and they all concur.  For his hugs alone, Tim deserves to be remembered.

The last time I remember seeing Tim was March of 1997.  That is when I shadowed him and came back to do an alumni production of Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? at my high school.  Even though my friend was still living with him that next summer, Tim was so busy between work, church, and theater that I never saw him when I was over at his apartment.  Occasionally I would stop by DeSales in hopes of seeing him, but he wouldn’t be there.  I was so excited for the school when he was made principal.  Then life took me in other directions, and I never saw him again.

Since he moved to Nashville last year, there have been many times when I considered e-mailing him at his new school.  I even checked out the website once or twice.  I would write letters to him in my head from time to time, but somehow they never made it into hard copy.  Even though I had heard that his cancer had returned, I thought he would just beat it again.  I was wrong.

This past Sunday in Mass the choir sang a song that went “Plenty good room in my Father’s Kingdom, Plenty good room, Plenty good room.  Choose your seat and sit down.”  I can just imagine Tim choosing his seat, singing with the saints and angels, and possibly saying to them, “No one is praying to see your ass!!”

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