clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A few thoughts about Mr. Wildcat

I did not write this before because I could not really compose my thoughts properly.   But after some consideration, I think I can talk a bit about Bill Keightley and what his loss means not just to me, but perhaps to the Big Blue Nation as well. 

When I think that Bill Keightley has been at virtually every Kentucky game I have ever seen, it brings his longevity into stark relief.  I have lived in this world only two more years than Mr. Keightley has worked at the University of Kentucky.  The first Kentucky game I ever saw was in 1970, and Bill Keightley had been at UK for eight years.  Keightley has worked with every men's basketball coach at Kentucky since Adolph Rupp, which really represents the totality of Kentucky basketball as today's fans know it.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Keightley, and that is truly my loss.  But I spoke today to an acquaintance of mine who knew Mr. Keightley pretty well. He goes by the handle of "Madkentucky" around the web, and he told me some interesting stories about his relationship with Mr. Wildcat, the kind of stories that men tell about each other with bare-knuckle bluntness and a hard edge of reality, without the sweet cotton-candy coating of time and forgetfulness.  It made Mr. Keightley much more real to me, more a man and less a legend.

Bill Keightley saw a lot while he walked among us, and lived life as fully and completely as anyone could imagine.  What is hard to imagine are all the details and information that Mr. Wildcat was privy to.  He had the answers to most of the questions about the Wildcats that have perplexed Kentucky fans for decades.  He was an integral part of championships and failures.  Of great victory, and ignominious defeat.  Of rapturous glory, and crushing disappointment.

Another thing I have noticed about Bill Keightley -- he seems to be respected and loved by everyone who knew him, and that must run into the tens of thousands of people.  Think about that for just a minute.  How incongruous it seems for a person holding the fairly humble position of equipment manager to be held in such high esteem by such a multitude.  Unlike the beloved Cawood Ledford, Mr. Wildcat was never on the radio, was never in the forefront of the legendary Kentucky program.  His was not a glamorous job but a blue-collar one, and most of the contributions he made to the the legacy of Kentucky will never be known to us.  The times he consoled players and coaches alike.  The times he counseled men, young and old, and passed the wisdom of his many years to them.  We will never know these things, and he will not be remembered for them but by a select few who have been privileged to know him well.  But be assured, Bill Keightley was mentor, priest, confidant and drill sergeant during his time at UK.  He was a marine, a father to many, a husband and a friend.  The salt of the earth, the unsung hero, the quiet soldier in the trenches using his wisdom gleaned from long experience to help build the legend that is the Kentucky program.

Mr. Wildcat will be remembered for being at Kentucky longer than any coach, any athletic director and any president.  He has seen all these come and go, be hired and fired, live and die.  But during most of his adult life, Mr. Keightley has been in the same place every time the Kentucky Wildcats laced 'em up to play -- in the first chair on the bench.  When I look there next year, I will still see him there, just as he has been in each of the last five decades.  He will be there in spirit, I'm sure, unless God has more important things for him to do.

So as we say, "Farewell and Godspeed" to a humble figure that grew into a beloved Kentucky icon, let us remember the things he did that we will never know the details of, the passing of wisdom, counsel and the comforting surety of long experience to all who passed through our hallowed program.  He was one of the last living contacts we had with the halcyon era of Adolph Rupp, and the common thread that bound together every Kentucky basketball coach and player, past and present, since the Baron stalked the sidelines.  It is that permanence we will miss the most.  But in the end, that was probably the least important of the many things that Mr. Wildcat contributed to Kentucky's legacy.

It is said that many people "tiptoe through life, so carefully, to arrive safely at death."  That cannot be said of Mr. Wildcat -- he lived his life fully, and passes from us to our sorrow, yet at the same time, with the gratitude and pride of so many.  Heaven is a richer place today, and our world, poorer.