Mr. President, I rise today to pay tribute to a man who was a fixture of Kentucky basketball, with a fervent passion for competition and a fast loyalty to his country, his State, and his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats.
Bill Keightley, affectionately known as “Mr. Wildcat,” passed away recently at the age of 81. He embodied the spirit and tradition that is Kentucky basketball. Born William Bond Keightley in 1926, Mr. Keightley was an All-State center for the Kavanaugh High School basketball team in his hometown of Lawrenceburg, KY.
He later enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and bravely served his country during World War II. After the war, Mr. Keightley spent much of his young adulthood working as a mail carrier.
Then in 1962, his friend and fellow postman George Hukle asked him to help out washing jerseys and towels for the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team. Over the next 4 1/2 decades, he proved himself indispensable as the school’s top cheerleader, ambassador of goodwill and confidante to players and coaches alike.
“Mr. Bill,” as he was called by friends and family, witnessed three national championships, befriended six head coaches, and cared for hundreds of players over his long career.
Loved by fans and respected by opponents, he earned a permanent seat on the Kentucky bench at every game. In fact, Mr. Keightley attended more than 1,400 UK basketball games, nearly 60 percent of all games ever recorded. And former UK basketball coach Orlando “Tubby” Smith points out that “it has been . . . us [coaches] sitting next to him,
not him sitting next to us.”
Mr. Keightley often served as a father-like figure to the players, and many recall his talks with “his boys” on anything from Kentucky sports to lessons of integrity and pride. “Players, coaches, and athletic directors come and go, but Bill Keightley was constant,” says Kenny Walker, a friend and former UK player.
John Pelphrey, member of the “Unforgettable” 1992 Wildcats team and now head coach at Arkansas University, says: For 48 years, Mr. Bill looked over coaches and student-athletes with love and care that only a father could give…every time we had an encounter, there was a hearty hello,a hug, and a laugh, every single time, just like the first time.
In 1997, Mr. Bill’s jersey was elevated into the rafters of Rupp Arena, making him one of only two people to receive this honor without having taken to the court to play the game.
In 2005, he was entered with the charter class into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame. The equipment room in Lexington’s Memorial Coliseum was named in his honor, and he humbly presided over it until his unfortunate passing this past March 31.
Noted Lexington sportscaster and friend Dave Baker says of Mr. Keightley:
He knew just when to lend a hand to the young man from Appalachia who was adjusting to the big city, or a young man who had been recruited from out-of-state and was getting accustomed to a brand new life in Kentucky. Mr. Keightley lived his life as a celebration.
Perhaps the most lasting tribute to Bill began in 2002, when the University of Kentucky athletic department presented its first Bill Keightley Award to the individual “who exemplifies the pride, respect, and positive attributes” associated with the University of Kentucky basketball program. They still present this award annually, to honor Mr. Bill.
UK followers and basketball lovers across the Commonwealth have lost the sport’s No. 1 fan. And I know I speak for all of them when I say our prayers and best wishes of support go out to his family, including his wife, Hazel; and his daughter and son-in-law, Karen and Alden Marlowe.
UK President Lee Todd, Jr., best expressed what many Kentuckians are feeling when he said that we have “lost someone who was not only the face of Kentucky Wildcat basketball, but the University itself.” I second his words, and add to them my own: We will not soon forget the loyalty, passion, and dedication to excellence that Bill Keightley
I yield the floor.