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Rhodes Trust 120th Anniversary Reunion

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Tony Keefer

(Ontario & Balliol 1967) (20 December 1945 – 19 October 2022)

Tony Keefer

Born in a log cabin in a northern Québec mining community on December 20, 1945, Tony Keefer gave early evidence of extraordinary abilities. Growing up in Toronto, where his family moved when he was six, he was a keen sailor at the RCYC Junior Club; a budding entrepreneur who supplemented his boyhood newspaper route with a solo business of designing, building and marketing wooden birdhouses across north Toronto; the most highly decorated Queen’s Scout in Ontario; and an outstanding student, routinely earning the highest grade average in the province.

Following in the wake of family members including great-grand-uncle Harold (College number 17), his father Thomas (2330), and his brother Bowie (6395), Tony entered RMC in 1963. He graduated four years later with the highest grades in the College’s history, with widespread gratitude for the generosity with which he had put his own abilities to work in assisting classmates and junior cadets in their studies, and with a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford.

Tony’s accomplishments at Oxford included (in ascending order of importance) piloting a fast and powerful sports car, writing a brilliantly complex doctoral thesis on control theory, and, in 1969, winning the heart of Deborah Syson, the love of his life, to whom Tony was very happily married for fifty-three years.

After several years of consultancy work for the UK government, Tony entered the Canadian civil service. His abilities were quickly recognized in Ottawa, and he enjoyed a meteoric rise to positions of senior responsibility in several ministries. He was subsequently ‘head-hunted’ for senior positions in the United Nations in Geneva: there he worked for several UN agencies, but concentrated his efforts in the World Intellectual Property Organization, whose work he guided for more than two decades.

Tony was impelled throughout his life by high ideals—to which he himself gave memorable expression at the time of his graduation from RMC in an address he was invited to give to the College’s faculty and students. Taking as his subject the pursuit of excellence, he demanded that we reject “the cult of mediocrity” and stand up to challenges and difficulties.

The “highest aim of life,” Tony said, “is not the negation of all that has gone before.” And yet “To excel, to become a person of integrity and quality, it is necessary […. to] make a positive offering to counter the error and ignorance that undoubtedly exist in the world; [… and to] accept the responsibility given us by the present and the future.” History, he said, “shows us the mistakes of the past. But it also indicates that it would be presumptuous to assume that we will not also make mistakes. Let us then use past experience, and more important, the lessons of the present, to minimize our inevitable errors.”

In working to make the world “a better place in which to live,” and at the same time to excel as individuals and as leaders, “we must try to replace apathy with enthusiasm, aimlessness with ambition, and complacency with determination. I believe that we must have the vision to set our sights high, the courage to adhere to a set of principles, and the self-discipline to keep ourselves headed toward our goals. Let us not be self-centered and petty; let us dedicate our lives not to small purposes but to lofty ideals.” In Tony’s professional and personal life, in which he was devoted throughout to the well-being and happiness of others, these ideals found a very full expression.

Following his retirement, Tony was invited to lecture at the University of Geneva. But he took more pleasure in following the brilliant careers in finance and business of his and Deborah’s two daughters, Lucy and Rosie, and of their husbands Piers Playfair and Simon Hansford—and greater pleasure still in the role of loving grandfather to Lucy’s and Piers’ children Scarlett, Georgina and James, and Rosie’s and Simon’s children Charlotte, Henry, and Nicky.

Tony died, after a long illness, on October 19, 2022. He is remembered, with imperishable love and deep admiration, by Deborah, by Lucy and Piers, by Rosie and Simon, and by their dear children; by Tony’s siblings Bowie (and his wife Anna), Michael (and Janice), and Anne Elise (and Marko); and by a wide circle of loyal friends and former colleagues.