BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Former Biloxi Mayor Jeremiah "Jerry" Joseph O'Keefe, III passed away Monday night. He was 93 years old.
O'Keefe was a historical figure of note on the Gulf Coast, as well as a great Mississippian and an American war hero. O'Keefe's life, political and business career and commitment to community involvement are legendary.
Born July 12, 1923 in Ocean Springs, Jerry O'Keefe began a life that helped shape the Mississippi Coast in the 20th century. His family began the funeral business in 1865. In 1957 he bought his major competitor's business, creating Bradford-O'Keefe Funeral Homes. That happened after he enlisted in the U.S. Navy following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
As World War II escalated, O'Keefe distinguished himself as a fighter pilot with the U.S. Marine Corp. During the war, O'Keefe shot down five enemy aircraft, becoming an ace in a single day.
Eventually, Lt. O'Keefe received the Air Medal Distinguished Flying Cross and the Navy Cross for his service. In a 2005 interview with WLOX, O'Keefe reflected on his accomplishments saying, "It could not have been a better experience really, having gone through that, in a young formative period in my life. I think it helped shape who Jerry O'Keefe is."
He launched a political career in 1960, serving one term as a member of the house in the Mississippi Legislature. After serving the state, he returned home to resume his business and civic activities. He was elected the mayor of Biloxi in 1973. As a two term mayor, O'Keefe made his mark steering Biloxi through eight eventful years.
O'Keefe was a prominent philanthropist. He was a significant financial contributor and relentless fundraiser for the Walter Anderson Museum of Art and the world class museum that bears his name, the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art. He and his wife, Annette founded and endowed the O'Keefe foundation to make a difference in the name of charity.
Few people lived as exciting and meaningful a life as Jerry O'Keefe. Jerry O'Keefe was first and foremost a family man. He and his wife Annette had 13 children. Annette O'Keefe died in May 1998.
He is survived by his second wife, Martha, 11 children, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements for Jerry O'Keefe:
- Friday Visitation
5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Bradford O'Keefe Funeral Home
911 Porter Ave., Ocean Springs
- Saturday Visitation
9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Nativity BVM Cathedral
870 Howard Ave., Biloxi
- Funeral Mass