Justice News

Attorney General Holder Speaks at the Memorial Tribute to John C. Keeney
Washington, DC
United States
Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Thank you, David [Margolis]. It is an honor to stand with you today – and a privilege to join with so many of Jack Keeney’s family members, friends, and former colleagues – as we pay tribute to the remarkable life – and the enduring legacy – of a truly exceptional public servant.

I'd like to thank each of our distinguished speakers for the recollections they’ve shared with us today – as well as those who contributed to that moving video, and who helped to organize this event. And I especially want to thank and recognize the members of the Keeney family who are here this afternoon: Jack, Kathy, and their daughters, Katherine and Jackie; Gina and Terry, and their daughter, Anne; Kathy and David; Jeanmarie; Joan; and Mr. Keeney’s cousin, Dan [Kane].

You are, and always will be, a valued part of the Justice Department family, and we’re honored to have you all with us.

Here, in the Department that Mr. Kenney loved so dearly and served so well, it is clear – in the children and grandchildren who were the pride and joy of his life; and in those who worked alongside him and benefited from his guidance and expertise – that, although he is no longer with us, John C. Keeney still has the power to bring people together and to inspire the best in each of us.

Over the course of nearly seven decades – since the day he left college to join the Army Air Corps in 1943 – Mr. Keeney dedicated himself to the service of others, and to enriching and strengthening this country. As we’ve heard so many times today, he lived his life as a man of quiet passion – for his family; for the law; and, of course, for Notre Dame football.

He was well known for his goodness and kindness. He was widely admired for his integrity and many talents. And he was counted on – by generations of Department lawyers and leaders – because of his sound judgment, his thoughtful advice, and his willingness to speak difficult truths, to help solve complex problems, and to confront the most demanding – and even dangerous – challenges.

Jack Keeney faced his first great test during World War II, when – in the skies over Nazi Germany, his B-17 bomber was shot down. He found himself very much alone – 11,000 feet above enemy territory – with a parachute that wouldn’t open. Fortunately, that young Army serviceman kept pulling on his rip cord, and the chute eventually deployed – only to land him deep behind enemy lines, where he was captured and taken to a POW camp where he would spend the rest of the war.

On its own, this period of service and sacrifice would have distinguished any American. But Mr. Keeney had more to give – and was eager to go where he felt he could do the most good. I know we’re all grateful that, in 1951, he chose to continue his service to our nation by joining the U.S. Department of Justice – and beginning one of the longest and most remarkable careers in its history.

As every person in this room knows – Mr. Keeney didn't just set a fine example. He set the standard. He was a model of professionalism – and effective leadership. He helped shape, not only the work of the Criminal Division, but also the course of this entire Department.

Over nearly six decades, he served under twelve different Presidents – and close to two dozen Attorneys General – helping to combat a range of threats, from organized crime to financial fraud – often decades before policymakers conceived of the robust law enforcement tools that prosecutors are able to employ today. He also became a mentor to countless young attorneys. And I am proud – and extremely fortunate – to be included in this group.

When I first joined the Justice Department 35 years ago, I was one of many who benefitted greatly from Mr. Keeney’s expertise, guidance, and kindness – and his willingness to help guide those of us just beginning our careers. Not only did I admire his legal skills and tireless determination, I often had the chance to celebrate his many contributions – as, time and again, Mr. Keeney was recognized with some of the highest decorations that our government can bestow on a civilian employee, including a Department of Justice building that’s named in his honor. Think about it: Robert Kennedy and John Keeney.

Upon returning to the Department as Attorney General in 2009, I – like several of my predecessors before me – found that I could always count on his sound guidance and unparalleled institutional knowledge. But I also had the benefit of getting the kind of advice only a friend can impart. He was that to me.

Despite Jack Keeney’s many achievements and awards, I never once saw rest on his laurels – or retreat from a challenge. He believed – and continually reminded his colleagues – that, in the pursuit of justice, there is always more work to be done. And, for more than half a century, Mr. Keeney was always there to lead the way forward.

Over the years, his work made a meaningful difference for people and communities across – and even beyond – this country. And today, in the efforts of the many lawyers he trained and encouraged – including his son Terry, a talented prosecutor who I’m grateful to count as a colleague and long-time friend – Mr. Keeney’s work goes on.

The people in this room are Jack Keeney's living legacy. Through the memories that you will carry forward, his words will continue to teach us. Through the outcomes you achieve, his efforts will be strengthened. And through the spirit of service he helped ignite in each of you, I have no doubt that his dedication – to his nation and his fellow citizens – will continue to inspire this Department’s work for years to come and make America a better and more fair place.

Thank you.

Updated August 18, 2015