A.M. "Sandy" Keith, aged 91, died peacefully at his home on October 3, 2020. He was born on November 22, 1928 in Rochester, Minnesota to Dr. Norman Keith and Edna Alexander Keith. He graduated from Amherst College and Yale Law School and then enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean war. After boot camp at Quantico, Virginia he served for a year in Korea as a First Lieutenant. He married Marion Sanford on April 29, 1955 in Washington, D.C. and they moved to Rochester where Sandy worked in the legal department of the Mayo Clinic. In 1959 he was elected to the Minnesota State Senate representing Olmsted County. He was Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota from 1963 to 1967. After losing an election for governor in 1966, he returned to Rochester to practice family law at the firm Dunlap and Seeger that earlier he had helped found. He was appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1989 as an Associate Justice and from 1990 to 1998 served as the Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. In 2005 he helped form and lead the Rochester Downtown Alliance for five years as its first executive director. In his life he served his hometown, state and country.
Sandy was a public man - the only person in Minnesota's history to have served in all three branches of state government. He loved politics. He loved working with people from all walks of life. And he loved wrestling with tough issues - at the state capitol, at city hall or in the courtroom. He brought a tireless energy, buoyant spirit and fearless determination to improve the lives of his clients, his constituents and the people of Rochester and the state of Minnesota. He had a unique ability to make things happen, to bring the right people together in the right way to address important issues. Whether it was helping parents resolve custody and parenting issues through mediation, breaking down barriers for women to serve as judges, unifying the state court system or revitalizing downtown Rochester, Sandy found ways to work with others to get things done. He was the first president of the local group that eventually succeeded in bringing a branch of University of Minnesota to Rochester.
Sandy loved his home in the country and every spring for many years attempted the impossible of country living: digging every dandelion in sight by hand. He loved his daily walks with his beloved dogs. He loved skiing in Colorado and, to the embarrassment of his sons, singing "Born Free" at the top his lungs while carving turns down the slopes. He loved fishing in Canada with his sons, grandchildren and friends. He particularly enjoyed "counseling" young people about their lives and throughout his life was a prolific letter writer. Perhaps more than anything, he loved his work!
He is survived by his wife, Marion Sanford Keith, sons Ian Alexander Keith (Gail) and Dr. Douglas Scott Keith (Mei) and grandchildren Sean Keith, Ingrid Hagen-Keith, Ingemar Hagen-Keith and Andreas Hagen-Keith. He was pre-deceased by infant son Peter Sanford Keith, his parents and sisters Helen Keith Kling and Janet Keith Shands.
The family thanks all of the people who walked with him along his path of life.
The memorial service will be announced at a future date. Condolence messages may be sent to Marion at: [email protected].
There are no events scheduled.
I am writing this as a much too long delayed “thank you” to Sandy. Unfortunately I never knew him as Sandy. When we first met at the end of the 1980’s I was Chief of Staff in the State Senate for Roger Moe. I had never met a Justice, much less a Chief Justice, so the day he walked into my office unannounced, introduced himself and asked if he could come over occasionally and talk about how the legislative session was going or politics I was blown away. I don’t remember what we talked about. He had no agenda. He just wanted to talk politics or ask how things were going in the legislative session. I answered his questions as best I could. I never had the courage to ask him any which I have always regretted. He wasn’t Sandy to me. He was Mr. Chief Justice and I was in awe despite his down home ways.
I’m sure he had many stories to tell, stories no one else knew or could tell, and I wish I had heard them. In his quiet, unassuming way he was in the middle of Minnesota politics and governance for four formative decades like few if anyone has ever been. Not without controversy or personal anguish, he did what he thought was right. He left Minnesota government, especially the courts, much better than he found them which is no small accomlishment.
When I “retired” from the Senate in 1990 to move to California Roger and Tom Kelm, whom I had worked for in Wendell Anderson’s office, threw a surprise party in one of the meeting rooms at the Capitol. The real surprise was when the Chief Justice walked in. I remember being pressured into saying something, anything. I have written many speeches for political leaders but actually giving one has always been a challenge. I have no idea what I said except to tell Roger that working for him was the best job I had ever had or was likely to have. I’ve always felt badly ever since that I didn’t thank Sandy for coming. His presence was truly an honor.
A year or so later, when I came back briefly as a consultant for the Senate, I was sitting at the bar in my favorite hang out, Frost’s, and thought I saw Sandy walking by through a window. I quickly paid my tab and ran out to find him but he was nowhere to be seen. When I mentioned to someone at the Capitol they said it probably was him, that he lived in that neighborhood. I had missed a chance again to hear his stories and thank him for dropping in. This is my way of finally saying “thank you Sandy”.