Bill Keating, former congressman and Enquirer publisher, dead at 93

Bill Keating, former congressman and Enquirer publisher, dead at 93


CINCINNATI – William J. Keating, a political, business and civic leader who rubbed elbows with everyone from presidents to the everyday people of his community, died Wednesday,it was confirmed to The Enquirer. He was 93. 

Any part of Keating’s career would have constituted a life lived in full by itself. Taken together, they represent an extraordinary legacy in the fields of law, politics and business.

“I lost a great friend,” longtime law partner Don Klekamp said Wednesday night. “Bill was kind to everybody. He was admired and loved by all. What an example he’s been.”

Keating’s multiple careers included serving, at different times, as The Enquirer’s chairman of the board, CEO, president and publisher. He also once was president of Gannett Co. Inc.’s newspaper division, where he was responsible for 85 newspapers and the production, distribution and financial operations of USA TODAY. Gannett is The Enquirer’s parent company.

Keating also spent four years as a U.S. congressman for the 1st District of Ohio, three years on Cincinnati City Council, and almost a combined 10 years as judge for the Cincinnati Municipal Court, and Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.

He founded one of the city’s powerhouse law firms.

He was in the U.S. Naval Corps during World War II and a first lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve as a Judge Advocate General.

Keating was honored as a Great Living Cincinnatian in 2001; in 2009 he was inducted into the Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky Business Hall of Fame.

Upon learning he would be named a Great Living Cincinnatian, Keating joked that the honor simply meant he was getting old. But in a 2000 interview with The Enquirer, he also reflected on his belief in community service.

“You look at yourself and you look at your community, and you say, ‘Something’s going to pass us by if we don’t do something.’ So you step up to the mark, and you do something,” he said.

Despite all the accolades, he was remembered as a man who treated everybody equally, believed we all can learn from others, and that leaders have an obligation to make sure their charges have all the tools necessary to succeed.

Later in life, Keating would routinely keep family members waiting if he ran into somebody he had crossed paths with earlier in life. On a trip to New York, one of Keating’s son remembers waiting at the airport while his father first caught up with a taxicab porter, and then with a shoeshine worker whose father Keating used to know.

It was an interest in others – most notably his wife, Nancy; seven children; and grandchildren – that drove Keating.

His late son Bill Keating Jr., a partner in the firm his father founded – Keating, Muething & Klekamp PLL – said his dad lived what he preached: You can learn from everybody you meet, and family always comes first.

“About 10-15 years ago, Dad was in my office, and my secretary came in and said, ‘Your son Paul’s on the phone,’” Bill Keating Jr. said in a 2012 interview with The Enquirer. “I said I’d call him back. Dad looked at me and said, ‘No, you take that call. I always took your calls.’ ”

“What I didn’t realize until I had that interaction with him was that whenever I called him at The Enquirer, I got him. He told his assistant that ‘I don’t care if I’m in a meeting, or wherever I am, if one of my kids calls me, you go find me.’ ”

William J. Keating was born on March 30, 1927, in Cincinnati. He attended St. Xavier High School, where he was an All-American swimmer, and graduated in 1945.

After serving in World War II, Keating attended the University of Cincinnati, where he was captain of the swimming team, and earned both a bachelor’s degree in business and a law degree in four years. He graduated in 1950.

He then went into private practice, specializing in trial work for insurance companies, and in 1954 formed the partnership of Keating, Muething & Keating, with his brother Charles Keating. Today it is known as Keating, Muething & Klekamp (KMK Law).

In 1957 he became an assistant attorney general for Ohio, then was appointed as a judge to the Cincinnati Municipal Court in December 1958. He was elected in November 1959, and would stay on the court until 1964.

The late John W. Keefe, an Ohio senior judge who served with Keating in the 1950s on the municipal court, recalled those days in a published essay when Keating retired from The Enquirer in 1992.

“Although his political background is in the Republican Party and mine in the Democratic, I always voted for Bill and supported him because of his obvious aptitude for public service,” Keefe wrote.

In November 1964, Keating was elected judge for the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, then three years later received 58% of the vote to become one of nine Cincinnati City Council members.

In 1970, Keating was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the 1st District of Ohio, with 69.4% of the vote. He was re-elected in 1972 with 70.1%  of the vote.

In Washington, Keating’s assignments included being a member of the House Judiciary Committee. He participated in fact-finding trips following the Attica Correctional Facility prison riot in New York state and went to Israel to evaluate the efficacy of American aid in helping the immigration of Soviet Jews.

During Keating’s four years in Congress, he developed relationships that would last much longer. Bill Keating Jr. said he and his brother Mike got to sit in on one particularly important conversation.

“When Dad was in Congress, he developed some great relationships with people, including Jerry Ford. And Ford was trying to decide if he was going to run for president again in 1980. And he was coming into town to talk to Dad. And he was coming at 2 o’clock on Tuesday,” Bill Keating Jr. said.

“Mike and I sat there and we didn’t say anything, but we listened to Dad and Jerry Ford talk for an hour and a half.”

In the fall of 1973, Keating surprised the region when he announced he was leaving politics to become president and chief executive officer of The Enquirer, which was then owned by a subsidiary of American Financial Corp. (now American Financial Group).

He was talked into the move by his friend the late Carl H. Lindner Jr., who was then serving as the newspaper’s publisher.

It marked the launch of a successful newspaper career, most of which was spent working for Gannett. AFC sold the paper to Combined Communications Corp. in 1975, and in 1978, Combined merged with Gannett. After the merger was finalized in 1979, Gannett appointed Keating publisher.

Although he had no newspaper experience, Keating said in 1973 that he thought his philosophy in politics would translate well into his new profession. Those comments came amid the backdrop of Watergate and increasing distrust in the political system.

“Through the years I have developed a great respect and admiration for the men and women with whom I have served. Particularly in these times, I would like to have the ability to convey this impression to the American people,” Keating said then, according to 1991’s “The Grand Old Lady of Vine Street,” a book that traced the first 150 years of the newspaper.

“I expect my experience to be of great value in my being able, for example, to call on people whom I have come to know to see how they arrive at their beliefs on pending matters and issues.”

The experience led to bigger roles with Gannett. In March 1984, Keating was named president of the Newspaper Division, and senior vice president for Gannett. In January 1986, he became executive vice president and general counsel for Gannett, then five months later was named CEO for the Detroit Newspaper Agency.

There, he was responsible for combining the business operations of the Detroit News, which was owned then by Gannett, and the Detroit Free Press, then owned by Knight Ridder. At that time, they were the ninth and 10th largest newspapers in the United States. Keating held the job until 1990 when he returned to Cincinnati to serve as The Enquirer’s publisher until his retirement in 1992, when he turned 65.

“The Enquirer is a great newspaper,” Keating said in 1992. “I shall miss the daily opportunity to be involved in serving its readers and advertisers. I will especially miss working with the people at The Enquirer.”

Keating faced challenges, both inside and outside the paper. He briefly served as a director for Phoenix-based American Continental Corp., where his brother Charles was the chairman. In September 1989, Bill Keating was among several executives the federal government sued following the collapse of Lincoln Savings & Loan, which was owned by American Continental. A few months later, Bill Keating was dismissed from the lawsuit.

Then-Enquirer editor George Blake, told Cincinnati Magazine in February 1990 that, “My own personal feeling, when I saw that Bill had been named the suit was, ‘Well, that won’t last very long. I’m sure (Keating) didn’t do anything illegal.’ He is probably the most honest man I’ve ever met. I would be astounded to think that Bill Keating had any involvement in anything illegal. It would shatter my faith in human nature.”

Charles H. Keating Jr., a banker and financier whose name became the moniker for a group of five U.S. senators who intervened on his behalf with regulators during the 1980s savings-and-loan scandal, died in 2014 at the age of 90. 

Charles Keating, who was also known for his crusades against pornography, bought Lincoln Savings and Loan of Irvine, California, in 1984. It became part of a financial and real-estate empire Keating built by taking advantage of loose government restrictions on banking investments.

In 1989, federal regulators seized control of the savings-and-loan company and Charles Keating’s other holdings, alleging that he looted the federally backed Lincoln Savings at taxpayer expense.

A federal jury in 1993 convicted Charles Keating of wire and bankruptcy fraud. The case was overturned on a technicality in 1999; Charles Keating then pleaded guilty to four counts of fraud.

Bill Keating’s business influence through the years extended beyond the newspaper. His company board memberships included Fifth Third Bank and Midland Co. He was a member of the Cincinnati Business Committee as well as Commonwealth and Commercial clubs. He also served as a trustee for both Xavier University and UC.

The late Ohio Gov. George Voinovich, who appointed Keating to the UC Board of Trustees, called Keating “the leading advocate for Cincinnati” in a 2000 Enquirer article, citing his involvement ranging from the former Health Alliance to the Aronoff Center for the Arts.

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