It’s not easy to keep Patricia Keyes down. Her son Kevin says that she was once hit by a truck and even that didn’t keep her down.
Those who know her say that whatever she does, whether serving her family, serving the Church, or serving the United States government, she gives it all she’s got. She has not only pursued excellence, she has caught up with it.
As a Regional Representative for the United States Department of Transportation, Patricia Keyes is responsible for all the department’s business in ten states more than one-third of the continental United States including Montana, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska. From the department’s office in Kansas City, she works with state and local governments, special interest groups, and private companies who must deal with the department. (Since the Keyes’ home is in St. Louis, going to the office means a three-hour, cross-state drive.)
“I guess you could say that I’m the eyes and ears in Kansas City for the secretary of transportation in Washington, D.C.,” says Sister Keyes. “I try to foresee problems, and if they do develop, I try to take care of them at the local level so they don’t end up on the secretary’s desk.”
It’s not every grandmother who spends her time coordinating business affairs with the Coast Guard (for inland waterways), Federal Highway Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Railroad Administration, Urban Mass Transit Association, National Highways Safety Programs, and a variety of other organizations. Always one to plunge right into the heart of a situation, she has found herself donning jeans and a wool shirt for a trip across the country in a “rig” to better understand the problems of truckers, and crawling under cars to check their brake linings.
It’s the kind of job that requires the organization of a stake Relief Society president, the communication skills of a seminary teacher, the wisdom of a stake Young Women president, the listening ear of a choir director, and the drive of a missionary.
It might be said that she’s the perfect person for the job, since she has served in all of those positions.
“Everything I am, or can hope to do, I owe to Church experience,” Sister Keyes says. “The Church has helped me develop my talents, and now I’m using those skills to serve my country as well as the Church.”
Her husband, Franklin, an aeronautical engineer, concurs. “I wasn’t at all surprised when she was offered the job,” he says. “I encouraged her to take it because I knew it would be a good growing experience and a fulfillment of the good training she’d had in all her Church positions. She’s held just about every Church position that a woman can hold. In fact, seeing the development that took place in her life and in our son Kevin’s life as a result of their Church activities was one of the factors that eventually led to my conversion to the Church in 1966.”
Franklin Keyes first saw his wife on a city bus in Ohio, shortly after World War II. He arranged an introduction and a date, and they were married in 1946. Neither knew anything about the Church at the time. Six years later, the missionaries knocked on their door, and Patricia Keyes joined the Church in January of 1953. But for her husband, the conversion process took a little longer. Their marriage was sealed in the Salt Lake Temple in 1967. Through the years, the gospel has become an integral part of their lives.
In times of crisis, at home or in her work for the Department of Transportation, Sister Keyes says she never hesitates to turn to the Lord for guidance. “The phone rings, and I know because of who’s on the other end that it’s going to be a crisis out of Washington. I know that I’ll be called upon to make decisions, and I often take just ten seconds before I pick up my phone and pray for the influence of the Spirit to help me make the right decision. I’ve always received the help I’ve needed.”
How was she chosen for the job? For the answer, she thinks back to the 1970s. “I believe in this country, and I believe that people who have the time to serve it should do so. I felt that the voting public wasn’t taking its responsibilities seriously, so I decided to do my part. I started out as a volunteer on an election campaign a half-day a week, and eventually started putting in more and more time.
“I never wanted to work in a career full-time. I liked being a full-time housewife and doing my Relief Society work and the other jobs I’ve held in the Church. But I worked hard as a volunteer. Afterward, a friend in Washington, D.C., called and said, ‘I have a job I want you to take.’ He said, ‘Talk it over with your husband, then call me in forty-eight hours and say you’ll do it.’
“My husband, Franklin, walked in the door when the call came. It was a Monday evening, and after our dinner we went into his den to have our family home evening. He started the lesson, and I said, ‘Just a minute, Brother Keyes, before you start, let’s talk about my phone call.’ He said, ‘Oh, that. I think you ought to take it. You’ll love it, and we’ll manage.’ So I took the job.”
Since she travels quite a bit in her job, Sister Keyes makes a special effort to spend time with her grandchildren, who live in St. Louis, while she is at home. “One of the most exciting parts of my job is the books that my grandchildren and I are creating together about our country,” she says. “I collect things for them when I travel. Each child has a book for the postcards and historical brochures I bring them. I visit Washington, D.C., about six to nine times a year and bring back a suitcase of treasures for the grandchildren. They probably know more about that city than the children who live there. It’s been a great learning experience for all of us.”
Time with her husband is more valued now, too. “I think we talk more to each other now than before she took the job,” Brother Keyes says. “And when we talk on the phone, we really talk.”
His wife agrees. “If I’m out of town, it takes a phone call at night to coordinate activities. Then, early in the morning, we make a wake-up call to say ‘I love you.’ Our time together is top priority. Franklin will often join me in Washington, D.C., and do temple work and genealogy while I’m in meetings. Or he will come to Kansas City and we’ll spend the weekend in our apartment. We have time to ourselves there that’s hard to find at home sometimes.”
When she’s traveling, Sister Keyes packs her Tabernacle Choir tapes, City of Joseph Nauvoo pageant tapes, her scriptures, and her journal. All get plenty of use.
She is currently Relief Society leadership trainer in the St. Louis Second Ward, St. Louis Missouri Stake. “Sister Keyes has a very positive influence on our ward,” says her bishop, Gerald Peterson. “My daughter was in her seminary class, and Sister Keyes was always doing special things, inviting the kids over to her house. She’s directed our choir for many years and sung solos in sacrament meeting many times. She’s a great influence on us all.”
Bishop Peterson’s wife, Karen, agrees. “When Pat does something, she puts her whole self into it and does a great job. As a Gospel Doctrine teacher, she would reach out and motivate you. She makes you feel that the time the Lord has given each of us is so precious that we can’t waste any of it.”
Part of that enthusiasm comes from overcoming challenges in her own life, says the couple’s only child, Kevin. “She’s had a lot of major surgery and major illnesses in her life, and that’s spurred her on. She’s had operations for cancer twice, and that brush with death made her more determined to do some things she felt were important. She’s a hard worker and has a positive attitude, and those qualities have got her where she is now.”
What motivates her, her husband comments, is her testimony. “She’s really converted to the gospel and to what she likes to call ‘eternalisms.’” Eternal life, eternal marriage, and the idea of families being together forever are very important in her life, and she shares her feelings with others. “She’s reached out and helped bring many people back into activity in the Church. She has a powerful testimony of the gospel.”
Each summer Sister Keyes travels to Nauvoo for the City of Joseph Pageant, for which she does the promotion with local media. She also participates in the cast of the production, dancing, singing, and generally having a good time. A few years ago, she also had the opportunity to lead one of the multistake choirs that performed for the dedication of the Monument to Women garden park by the Nauvoo Visitor’s Center in 1978. “That was exciting—being within four or five feet of the President of the Church and directing the music,” she recalls.
Nauvoo is especially significant to her because she has been adopted into an Indian tribe that once lived in the area. Her keen interest in American Indians was sparked in the 1950s, when she was a district missionary to an Indian reservation in upstate New York. There she became friends with Arthur Wakolee, whose story about his feelings as an Indian reading the Book of Mormon led her to write an account of his conversion. She was later adopted into the Wakolee family. Her association with Indians led to her assignment as an ad hoc member of the President’s Commission on Indian Reservation Economies. She was also appointed to a committee promoting rural economic development for the Cherokee reservation in Oklahoma, and is working with the Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni tribes as well.
Ultimately, each individual is responsible for helping others and for making the world a better place, Sister Keyes believes. “If we don’t become involved, we get what we deserve,” she comments. “You don’t have government for the people and of the people unless it’s by the people.
“I don’t criticize people for not becoming involved, though, because I understand that each of us has limitations, and we have priorities. We need to be selective. But a husband and wife might decide that this is the year to give time to a city council or parent-teacher association. Members of the Church need to be as involved as possible in civic affairs.
“The British statesman Edmund Burke observed that when good people do nothing, the way is paved for the triumph of evil. That’s why our influence needs to be felt.”