BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - He is being remembered as a patriot, a community and political leader, and a devoted family man. Jeremiah "Jerry" O'Keefe passed away early Tuesday morning at age 93.
More than one person we talked with Tuesday described Mr.O'Keefe as "larger than life." This longtime community leader leaves behind quite a legacy of compassion and caring for others.
The flag flies at half staff outside Biloxi City Hall. And at the start of Tuesday's city council meeting, the mayor invoked a moment of silence for Mr. O'Keefe.
"He's been an inspiration to me. Not only was he a great Biloxian, but he was a true American hero," said Mayor Fofo Gilich.
"He was truly representative of what Biloxi is about. And the families and the relationships of Biloxi. And how proud he was to do the things he did. So I can just smile and I know he's looking down on us right now in Biloxi. And we're going to push forward and we'll make him proud," said the Mayor.
Jerry O'Keefe's photograph is posted amid the "mayors of Biloxi" which cover the wall outside the city council chambers.
"A great mayor and loved Biloxi so much. He's really one of a kind. Very visionary. Really cared about the history and culture of Biloxi," said former mayor Gerald Blessey.
One significant contribution to that culture is the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art.
Named in honor of his wife, Jerry O'Keefe is the man most responsible for getting the world class museum built.
"He helped raise a lot of money, banged on a lot of doors to get this thing happening. And it's a great credit to Biloxi that we've had such a great native son," said Museum Director Kevin O'Brien.
"My father and my uncle went to high school with Jerry O'Keefe. And my father was the center on the football team when Jerry was the quarterback," said attorney Michael Cavanaugh, who's known the O'Keefe family all his life.
An old black and white photo of the Sacred Heart Academy football team hangs in Michael Cavanaugh's office. Jerry O'Keefe wore number 15.
"Compassion. His compassion for other people, to me was the strongest and most striking quality. And he never lost it," said Cavanaugh, "Jerry was very generous with his attention. And with his money of course. And always helping. Not always wanting to be in the limelight. Hundreds of small stories of things he did for people. And of course some large things he did for his community."
This youngest ace of World War II once shot down five enemy aircraft in a single day. In an earlier interview with Jeff Lawson, he said he proud of his service, but also realized he was blessed to make it home.
"They weren't all as fortunate. We lost quite a few very good men. Good pilots. So, I felt like I was blessed," said Jerry O'Keefe.