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].
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”.
I ran Cross Country with Doug and Ian at Mayo High School and met Sandy through and many of the Cross Country meets. He was alway cheering all of us, not just his sons. I think it was my senior year civics class we took a field trip to the County Courthouse, we got a tour of the place and some time just to look around. I was looking in the different courtrooms when I saw Sandy in one, sitting in the spectator section not at one of the tables where the lawyers sat, I went in and sat next to him and asked what he was doing there. He pointed out the guy who was defending himself to the Judge and told me he had fired Sandy as his lawyer. The man had an addiction problem: Sandy told him he needed help with it and that is when he lost his client. Sandy still cared for his client and wanted to see what was going to happen to him. As the court proceedings were progressing Sandy filled me in on what was happening, who the judge was and what he thought was going to happen. Talk about getting a civics lesson and I was the only one in there with him. I think I was there for only about ten minutes but I will never forget it. He took the time to talk to a High School student, treated me like a friend and passed some knowledge and wisdom on to me. He will be missed.
I first met Sandy when he came to Don Fraser's D.C. office in later 1965as he was running for DFL endorsement for Governor the next year. Don later nominated him at the same time that their good friend Walter Mondale nominated Karl Rolvaag.
Sandy's "AwSchucks" style covered a complicated and thoughtful man. And he was his own man as he met Rudy Perpich on return from Europe to urge him to run for Governor. He supported my efforts to become a judge, and I am forever grateful for that support for my favorite job. He was larger than life and leaves a big hole in his family and community.
I had the honor of serving as one of the Chief's law clerks in the 96-97 term, along with the much more accomplished Adam Samaha. I was the mother to two young children at the time. The Chief was so kind and appreciative of the fact I had excelled in law school while parenting young children. He was a fierce advocate for women, a brilliant jurist, a mentor, and a friend. Blessings to Marion and his family.
I wish to extend my condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Sandy Keith. I am from the Republic of Korea and now a citizen of the United States. I wish to thank Mr Keith for his service in defense of my former county. Without his sacrifice and that of many others ROK would not be the prosperous and democratic country that it has become.
Veronica Min Wotipka
Dear Family and Friends of Sandy Keith,
What an honor it has been to count Sandy Keith as a friend and mentor. He was and is an inspiration to so many of us. We are saddened by his loss, but uplifted by the memories of his incredible contributions to our community and state. Truly a rare caring and effective leader. My love and respect are beyond measure. I wish strength and faith to his family. God Bless.
I shared the sad news of Sandy's passing with our Senate colleagues. Many are expressing their deep sorrow at this great loss. He was admired and loved by all.
Sandy and Steve in 2007 at a party commenting the 50th Anniversary of AM1270KWEB. We owned the station in the 70s and 80s.
Dear Marion and Family,
Just a note to express our condolences at Sandy's passing...
We are honored to have had him walk with us on our mutual journeys through life.
He was a source of strength and kindness always. We cherish his humility, too.
Our paths first crossed in 1962 and that just kept happening until we became friends!
Last saw Sandy in 2007 at a party commenting the 50th Anniversary of KWEB Radio.
Please do let us know when you have set a memorial date as we would hope to attend.
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