John Robert O'Keefe went to law school with the aim of enhancing his skills as a certified public accountant. Instead, he left with a degree and a love for the law that he turned into a career in which he argued several cases that landed before the Minnesota Supreme Court.
He specialized in general practice and business law for most of his career that spanned four decades, but he also handled cases in the areas of personal injury, real estate and divorce, family members said.
O'Keefe entered the political arena in 1949 when at age 24 he was elected as an alderman in Minneapolis' Eighth Ward, and in the process became what was believed to have been the youngest alderman elected in a major U.S. city, according to a Minneapolis Morning Tribune article published on Oct. 13, 1949. He served until 1953.
"He used to say, 'The more I had to get done, the more I got done,'" said his daughter Terry Ankeny of Wayzata. "He was extremely efficient."
O'Keefe died from complications of pneumonia Sunday at Fairview Red Wing Medical Center in Red Wing. He was 84.
Born the youngest of six children in Montevideo, Minn., O'Keefe graduated at age 16 as valedictorian of his high school class in Bensenville, Ill. He was second in his class at the University of Minnesota Business School, where he earned a bachelor's degree in accounting in 1945. He began his career as an auditor at Peat Marwick Mitchell by day and attended what is now William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul at night, Ankeny said.
Known for his dry sense of humor, O'Keefe practiced law with an eye for detail from the 1950s to the 1990s and went before the Minnesota Supreme Court in three cases: Western Savings and Loan vs. Harris; McGee vs. Breezy Point Estates (a real estate case), both in 1969, and a divorce case, Lemley vs. Lemley in 1971, said son-in-law Mark Gidley of McLean, Va.
As president of the local chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a Catholic, Irish-American fraternal organization, he entertained Robert F. Kennedy, brother of President John F. Kennedy and U.S. attorney general in the 1960s, at his home. Robert Kennedy had just published his book "The Enemy Within" at the time. Over the years, O'Keefe brought other political figures to Minneapolis to speak, said his daughter Bridget Gidley of McLean.
Despite his busy schedule, O'Keefe always had time for his family of six children. On Sundays, he'd take them on bike rides around the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis, and he often would "go play ball in the street" with his kids and those from the neighborhood, Ankeny said.
In addition to his daughters Terry and Bridget, O'Keefe is survived by daughters Leslie Stunkard of Hudson, Wis., and Elizabeth Thayer of Houston; two sons, John Patrick of Edina and Peter of Savage, and eight grandchildren.
Services have been held.