My Friend Keith

The first time I met Keith Connes, he was getting raked over the coals.

We were attending a writers group meeting in the Florida retirement community of Sun City Center. The group had been hijacked by Christian fundamentalists.

Keith had just finished reading a selection from his newly published book, Not Your Everyday Memoir!: Humorous Essays, Lies, Rants, Short Stories and More! Because the part he read dealt with sex, they slammed him mercilessly. He was immoral. Blasphemous even. He shouldn’t be allowed to read such filth in public. Instead of noisily storming out, Keith brushed aside their comments like the mosquitoes they were, and continued.

After the meeting I told him I liked his style. Our friendship began over a cup of coffee. Along with wry outlooks on life, we shared a common interest in writing. Keith had written stories, poems, plays, ad copy, articles and business pieces for most of his adult life. So had I. As a small plane pilot, he even wrote regularly for an aviation publication. I once wrote a piece about a runaway hot air balloon.

A feisty skeptic, he never let the authorities squat in his way. Rather than wade through the sludge of getting published, he uploaded his books to Amazon and sold them there. He acted all his life, so in Sun City he joined community theater (the Pelican Players). To hone his public speaking skills, he connected with Toastmasters International. He also practiced skin diving, the mere thought of which terrifies me.

Most remarkably, he did much of this in his eighties and nineties. As soon as we connected, I started reaping the benefits of his friendship.

“Ah writing!” I moaned. “Sometimes I have trouble getting started.”

“Maybe you type too much. Try dictating into a data recorder and then transcribing it. It’ll come easier. I wrote a book about that. Want a copy?”

There aren’t many books I can point to as having changed my life, but his STOP TYPING!: Write Better with Speech Recognition Speech-to-Text Software! is right up there. He also told me about the “Adult Writers Group” at our local library, insisting that it would be a good sounding board. I attended for about a year and was impressed by the members’ sense of community (if not by their sometimes sparse comments).

In the memoir mentioned above, Keith frankly described how he’d dealt with prostate cancer twenty years ago. He also revealed his unsuccessful marriage streak, and how he eventually married Fely, an attractive Filipina whose company he enjoyed for more than a decade. Even during his final battle with cancer, he continued writing his book about the history of unelected presidents.

I’ve linked a forty-eight minute documentary I created about his life. I could’ve done better, it’s true, but COVID-19 prevented me from collecting more material. It’s mostly just Keith’s talking head, but he’s a born storyteller. He speaks with endearing engagement.

Keith wasn’t wealthy, but his life was rich. He was admired during the 94 years he was here, mostly by the community. I will miss having him as a friend. It’s not that easy to find someone who can talk equally well about flying amateur planes and President Andrew Johnson.

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Author: Peter Bates

Peter Bates is a writer and photographer living in Florida. He is the administrator of this blog and runs the blog The Bodega Project.

11 thoughts on “My Friend Keith”

  1. Peter,

    Thanks so much for this video tribute to Keith Connes as he reminisced about some of his past dramatic performances. His charming satiric, self-effacing and comedic manner come through authentically.
    His delightful presence will be his legacy.

    Joe Petrick
    A Sun City Center, Florida friend

  2. I wonder whether Keith would have been familiar with my father’s store when he – Keith – lived in Greenwich Village. Did you happen to show him a photo of Cheryl’s (and my) father’s store – Village Cigars – in the West Village, from “back in the day?” I wonder what part Keith might have played in “The Mikado? Pooh-Bah? Ko-Ko? A very interesting fellow there. I have no doubt you miss him, Peter. (On a very different note, the lanai looks very nice.)

      1. My father had the store in Greenwich Village from around 1961 – 1974 or so. His purchase of the store coincided with the influx of the early folk singers to the Village in the early to mid ’60’s. (Prior to that he had a store right near the Apollo Theater in Harlem.)

  3. Peter Bates! OMG! WOW! THANKS! Keith died one month ago today, and just now I took the time to watch your wonderful video. I loved every second of it. I laughed and now have a tear in my eye… and lump in my throat, but yes, I will cherish this video of my beloved friend from our writers group. He was such a amazing person. Copying Fely on this too.

    I will for sure share this with the other folks in our group. We are all missing him so much, but so grateful to have had him in our life.
    Gentle hugs to Fely and huge THANKS to you for sharing this!

  4. What was impressive about Keith was his wide-ranging nature. Intellectually curious, he was somebody really good to talk to. Amazing how energetic and alive and involved in so many activities up into his mid-nineties. Still getting around, no wheelchair or Walker. Still in full possession of his faculties and witty and attentive. We should all be so fortunate.

    There are people at 25 who drag themselves through their days and don’t have the energy he did nearing 95.

  5. I just watched the video of Keith Connes and found it fascinating. He was such an interesting man. I am so sorry he is gone. Thank you for sharing.

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