ANACONDA — Lifetime resident and staunch supporter of Anaconda, Luke McKeon, died Friday, Dec. 2, 2011, with his family by his side.
Like all Anaconda natives, he was raised in the shadow of the stack. Luke was born Oct. 6, 1925, to Michael and Mary E. “Tootie” (McMahon) McKeon. He lived most of his life only a few blocks from his original family home.
As part of the “Greatest Generation,” his early life was shaped by the Depression, school, religion, sports, and World War II. He graduated from St. Peter’s High School and then enlisted in the Coast Guard from 1943 to 1946. Luke saw action fighting in the Aleutian Islands. While in combat, Luke was shot and took great pride in his status as a disabled American veteran. Memorial Day was a special day for Luke and in his younger years, he frequently was the main speaker at the courthouse gathering. He took great pride in serving his
country and talked often of what it was like as his fleet neared Japan to prepare for a ground assault of the island nation. Had President Truman not dropped the bomb, Luke knew he would be one of the first to occupy Japan with Gen. MacArthur.
After the Armistice, Luke returned to Anaconda where he married Margie “Dixie” Eklund and from that union four children were born. They later divorced. Luke worked at the smelter, but decided he would take advantage of the GI Bill and went to what was then Montana State University (now The University of Montana) in Missoula. With help from his parents and grandparents and driving cab, he supported his young family, completed his undergraduate degree in two years, and got a law degree two years later. So just five short years after completing military service, he was a lawyer, with a family to support and no job. Fortunately, Arnold Olson was attorney general and hired a young group of Butte and Anaconda lawyers to fill his staff. Luke worked in Helena with Arnold and during that stint met Harry Truman and rode the train with him on the famous Truman whistle-stop trip through Montana. He always looked at this as a high point of his career because he had such great admiration for President Truman.
After working at the attorney general’s office, Luke returned to Anaconda to be close to his parents and started a small private practice. He ran for county attorney and served one term. Luke embarked on a long career of public service and private practice. He had politics in his blood and in a close race he became a state senator in his early 30s. Things moved fast for Luke in the Montana Senate and he was appointed chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a position he held for a number of terms. During that period, the country was engaged in the Vietnam War and Luke, being very active in the anti-war movement, spoke across the country in opposition to the war. He met many Democrats across the nation who hated the war and worked diligently and with great passion to get the troops out of Vietnam. In 1964, he ran for lieutenant governor and took second in a field of six Democrats in the primary. Working with three other individuals, Luke contributed his legal and political talents so that financing was secured for the development of Fairmont Hot Springs. He served on the Anaconda-Deer Lodge Council of Commissioners, was a past post commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and Knights of Columbus, was appointed a member of the Commission of Post Secondary Education by Gov. Thomas Judge, and served on the Anaconda School Board.
Luke was disbarred from the practice of law in 1974, but was reinstated by the Montana Supreme Court. He spent the rest of his life practicing law and devoted a large amount of his time to helping friends and others without charging a fee. He had a sense he owed the community and paid it back as best he could. He would spend hours with his clients and showed great patience and understanding. In the end, it is safe to say, he had earned the admiration of his community and served it in many ways.
If politics was his passion, watching youth sports was right up there. Luke coached youth basketball and attended as many of his grandchildren’s games as possible. He loved watching the Anaconda Copperheads and Butte Central Maroons where his grandchildren and nephews played.
In 1987, Luke and Ellen McCarthy married. They enjoyed traveling, especially their trip to Ireland where he met his cousins and visited his family home. He was fiercely proud of his Irish heritage. For all his travels, he found great solace at the “camp” at Georgetown Lake, especially when he was sitting and admiring the Pintler Mountains. Many of Anaconda and Butte’s children learned how to water ski behind Luke’s boat and speak fondly of summers spent at the McKeon camp.
Luke took up running in his late 50s, completing three marathons and many local races. He also enjoyed his weekly swim at Fairmont. Perhaps Luke’s greatest passion was reading. He loved talking on the telephone and would do so for hours on end, usually talking about politics and Notre Dame.
Luke’s dearest friend was his brother, Willis, his only sibling. They were extremely close and shared the same passions, loved the Democratic Party, their families, Notre Dame, their Catholic religion, and any sport in season.
Luke is survived by his wife, Ellen McKeon, Anaconda; sons, Mick (Carol) McKeon, Butte, Tim (Helen) McKeon, Butte; daughter, Michele (Paul) McCann, Missoula; brother, Willis (Laura) McKeon, Malta; seven grandchildren, Michael, Matthew, Shaughn, and Kacie McKeon, Meghan (Jeff) Doud, Kathleen McCann, and Shannon (Daniel) Hathaway; great-grandchild, Brodie Doud; brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, Pat Dunne, Bill (Chieko) McCarthy, Tom (Theresa) McCarthy, Peggy (John) Kirchgessner, Dan (Jadine) McCarthy, Tim McCarthy, Jim McCarthy, Bob (Solome) McCarthy, Don (LuAnne) McCarthy, MaryAnn (Tom) Alexander, Maureen (Marty) Kloker; numerous nieces and nephews; and his loyal dog, Buddy.
Luke was preceded in death by his parents; son, John McKeon Jr.; and sister-in-law, Carol Dunne.
Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated Friday, Dec. 9, in Holy Family Catholic Church in Anaconda. Visitation will begin at 9:30 a.m. and Mass at 11 a.m. Interment will follow in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Anaconda with military honors by the Anaconda American Legion Post 21 and the Montana Honor Guard.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Washoe Park Foundation, PO Box 1139, Anaconda, MT or Smelter City Senior Citizens Center, 115 E. Pennsylvania Ave., Anaconda.
“Glac bog an saol agus glacfaidh an saol bog tú.”
Take the world nice and easy, and the world will take you the same.
Longfellow Finnegan Funeral Home is entrusted with Luke’s funeral arrangements.