It is with great sadness that the family of John Ahern Keating announces his passing on August 10, 2019 at the age of 65 years. John will be lovingly remembered by his wife of 12 years, Julia Hollinger Wray, a son Robert of Lake Ridge, VA, a daughter Kelly of Chicago, IL., a stepson, Ted Wray (Nikki) of Alexandria, VA and a stepdaughter, Mary Wray of Chicago, IL. He is also survived by two brothers, R. Mark and William J., and a sister, Judith Keating.
John was born on September 22, 1953 in Bethesda, MD to William J. and Lillian A. Keating. He graduated from O’Connell High School in 1972 and earned a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Virginia in 1976. He worked in banking and insurance for 32 years before becoming a therapeutic massage therapist in 2010. He was a talented musician. He played guitar and sang in a trio, “Wait ’n See”, performing at regional wineries. In addition to John’s loving family, he will be missed by his many friends, massage clients and music fans.
A celebration of John’s life was held at a private residence in Washington, DC on August 18. Charitable donations may be made to the MusicLink Foundation, 1043 N. McKinley Road, Arlington, VA 22205 or through their website: https://www.musiclinkfoundation.org.
EULOGY OF JOHN AHERN KEATING
There’s a line from a poem that goes, “The child is the father of the man.” That certainly was true of John! Right from the start, you could tell that he had so much wit, energy and enthusiasm that he could look forward to a good life. His sunny disposition and sense of humor, love of music and zest for life would lead to great friendships, a lifelong sidelight as a troubadour, and a most satisfying role as a loving husband and father. All of these shaped John’s life and gave it meaning.
I was five years old and my sister Betsy was four when John was born. He was the last of five kids in our family. Right from the start, we two treated him like our real live baby doll! He was a ball to be around, and we totally doted on him! I’d like to think that those happy formative years set John up for the wonderful, compassionate person he became. He had a talent for friendship and he maintained those friendships throughout his long life.
One of the constants in our family life was a sit down dinner every evening. Since we never knew anything else, I don’t think we ever fully appreciated how special it was. And here’s a shout out to our mom, who provided three squares a day for a quarter century! Those dinners over the years were a kind of laboratory of life. We learned a lot and were gently steered by our parents, and of course, we pushed back a bit, too. As I recall, John often provided comic relief, and we sibs encouraged him. I think maybe he began to develop his identity as an entertainer during those dinners.
When we were growing up, our home was filled with music. Broadway soundtracks, big band tunes and rock n’ roll blared from the Steelman Hi-Fi. One of my earliest memories is of us kids with our Dad out on the screened porch singing together. When John was in sixth grade, a neighbor taught him guitar chords, and from then on, he was on his way. He spent so much time playing guitar at college that he wound up graduating a year late. Well, perhaps there were other distractions, but he did become a solid guitar player during those years.
After graduation, John teamed up with Big Rod and the Country Outlaws, and they started playing at a dive on Columbia Pike called “The Office.” They also played once at the original Birchmere as “Uncle John’s Band”. In recent years, John joined up with Brad Hayford and Rosemary Gano in “Wait ’n See” and they played at regional wineries. They developed a solid repertoire of Folk, Rock, Country, Celtic and Gospel, and they had a large and loyal following. John told me that he loved playing with this group and that Brad’s higher standards took him to the next level.
Like a lot of kids, we never fully appreciated how wonderful our parents were and what excellent role models they were for us as parents. This helped prepare John for what was his most satisfying endeavor—marriage and family. He truly was a most domestic fellow, and it gave him great joy! He married Gina in 1978, and Rob and Kelly came along in due course. He enthusiastically supported Gina’s career and marathon running, as they both juggled their family responsibilities. They are very proud of Rob and Kelly, who reflect the best of their wonderful parents.
John and Gina eventually divorced, and in the years before John met Julia, he and I shared some adventures. When Paul McCartney brought his first solo concert to America, I made a comment that I would love to see him. Well, as a surprise, John got tickets for us, and it was the most amazing experience, not only for the show but for John’s commentary throughout. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the Beatles and rock and roll, and with each song in the show, John had an interesting or funny comment that enhanced the whole experience.
Then, in 2004, I got the inspiration to walk the Camino to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. I suggested it to John and he readily agreed. We walked the last 100 miles over 8 days, John thoroughly enjoyed that trip and even referred to it as life-changing. What I remember best was how much he loved floating in and out of conversations with fellow “caminitos”. He probably met 100 people from countries all over the world! And, as you can well imagine, whenever he could find a spare guitar, he serenaded the group.
John and Julia were introduced by Julia’s friend Lisa in 2006. They married in 2007, and thus began a new family adventure. With his flair for fatherhood, he seamlessly enfolded Julia’s kids, Ted and Mary, and they eventually transitioned to thinking of him as dad. It was a happy family, and all four siblings, together with Ted’s wife Nikki, remain very close. It is a quirk of fate that Gina and Julia live in the same community—they are almost next door neighbors. Over the 12 years that John and Julia lived there, they saw little of Gina; however, after John’s diagnosis, Gina became very involved and was hugely helpful to both John and Julia, right to the end. Gina and Julia will remain friends, sharing their love and memories of John.
Several years after meeting Julia, John left his successful banking and insurance career of 32 years and went back to school to learn medical massage. He joined Julia in her chiropractic wellness center as a therapeutic massage therapist, deriving great joy and satisfaction in his new career. His clients loved everything he brought to the table; from his excellent massage therapy skills to his many choices of music, and his sense of humor. He was able to get people to relax and release their discomfort and pain. He told Julia on a regular basis he was so happy and grateful to have found his second career and his clients were too!
When John was diagnosed, he and I met for lunch and, amid tears and laughter, John asked me to accompany him and Julia in their journey. Of course, I agreed! One of the things he asked me to do was to find out about cremation services in the area. I was a little taken aback, but I followed through. He made sure I knew he did not want to spend a lot of money! He said, “No frills, no carved alabaster urn! Just a Chinese carryout box!” This humorous take was typical of John’s last months. There was a lot of laughter, even belly laughs, and it helped him and Julia and all of us get through.
During that same lunch, John told me that he was not afraid to die, that he felt he was ready, that he had accomplished what he had been sent here to do. He was serene in this belief and he never wavered as his condition worsened. And in this connection, I want to express our family’s admiration and gratitude to Capital Hospice Care for helping meet John’s needs during that difficult time.
I had intended to read this eulogy to John before he passed on. I wasn’t able to do so, but as I formulated my ideas for the piece, I offered to give him the last word, so to speak. He offered this advice in the context of having conversations with friends:
And Speak if you Must
The idea is that if you genuinely listen to others, you’re setting yourself up for lifelong friendship.
This did not surprise me because, in the brief four months between his diagnosis and death, he carefully said goodbye to all those close to him—his family, friends, clients, and others. And during these final visits with loved ones, he followed his own advice and listened to everyone carefully - even giving advice and guidance to his visitors It was important to him, even though it was also painful. He hated to see how his news affected others. But he wanted to let them all know that he was okay and he wanted them to be, also.
So, that is John’s parting gift to us. He was born and raised a happy fellow. He shared that happiness throughout his life, and he wants us to continue in the same spirit. For myself, I have not yet grieved as much as I had anticipated. I’m sure it is partly denial, but my overwhelming feeling is of gratitude for his wonderful life and all that he did to enrich our lives with laughter and song and love.