In his own words, Charles C. Keller has had a “rich and rewarding” life. He served in the Army, obtained a law degree, had two “wonderful” marriages, a long legal career and served in numerous community service organizations.
At the age of 90, he still reports to his law office at Peacock Keller every day. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that he recently was honored by the National Conference of Bar Presidents with its 2014 Fellows Award.
But Mr. Keller was surprised.
“When I found out, I said, ‘They do realize I haven’t been president of the Bar Association for over 30 years?’ But the honor is to recognize those who continue to make a contribution to law after serving as the president,” he said.
The National Conference of Bar Presidents Fellows Award recognizes an outstanding past president of the bar who demonstrates outstanding work both in the legal field and community service.
Mr. Keller’s law career started over 65 years ago when he decided to go to law school instead of his initial plan of being a teacher. His father was a professor at the then-California State College (now California University of Pennsylvania) and his mother and sisters were teachers. But while he was student teaching, Mr. Keller realized it wasn’t a career for him.
Frustrated with student teaching, Mr. Keller still remembers that night in 1946 when he told his family at the dinner table he wasn’t going to be a teacher.
“You have to understand that my dad was the master of our home. After I said that I wasn’t going to be a teacher, there was silence for about two minutes, then he said, ‘Do you have any idea what you are going to do?’ in a very loud voice,” Mr. Keller said.
At the time, Mr. Keller said he wasn’t exactly sure, but knew he needed an answer immediately. Thinking of his uncle and father of his best friend — both successful lawyers, he told his family he thought he would become a lawyer.
“There was another silence for about another minute, then my father said, ‘Then you had better get after it,’” he said.
Mr. Keller applied to several law schools and was accepted at Harvard, Columbia and the University of Pittsburgh. He applied but never heard from the University of Michigan.
“I’ve punished them for 65 years by rooting against their football and basketball teams,” he joked.
Mr. Keller chose the University of Pittsburgh for his legal studies for “many reasons.”
“The main one was that I had already met my wife and we were engaged. I knew I wanted to get married,” he said.
Mr. Keller and his fiancee had become engaged before he served as a pilot in WW II. When he had been a child, Mr. Keller had become enamored with planes and wanted to be a pilot. When war broke out, he went to enlist to be a Navy pilot.
“During the physical, they were asking me questions and I told them I have flat feet. They wouldn’t even consider me after that,” he said.
Not letting that deter him, he went across the street to the Army Air Forces.
“They didn’t ask me about flat feet, and I didn’t tell them. They took me,” he said. Mr. Keller served during the war and in the Air Force Reserves for 30 years.
Mr. Keller’s first wife, Mary Lou, died after 43 years of marriage when she suffered a stroke. He married his second wife, Carol, 14 years ago.
“When you have one great marriage, you are blessed. When you have two great marriages, it is a miracle. I am so fortunate,” he said.
In addition to his service in the military, public service has always been very important to Mr. Keller. He is well known for, and extremely proud of, his work with Rotary International, a service organization that he joined in 1950. He served on the board of directors from 1974 to 1976 and from 1986 to 1988 and was president in 1987-1988. He has also served as a member of the board of trustees and chairman for Rotary Foundation of Rotary International.
Mr. Keller has also served with the Mon Valley United Way, Mon Valley Hospital, Mon Valley Health and Welfare Council, the California Area Chamber of Services, the Washington County Easter Seals Society, the Pennsylvania State Chamber of Commerce and numerous other nonprofits and organizations.
Mr. Keller said he has no plans to slow down in the near future. Last year, he undertook a major personal project by writing his memoirs.
“The great thing about writing your autobiography is that you don’t have to be right; it is what you remember.
Professionally, he still works every day at the law firm he helped found 65 years ago.
“I’m at the office every day by 9,” he said.
Correction (Published April 9, 2014): An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the names of Mr. Keller's first and second wives.
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.