Marlborough’s former Town Cryer, Johnny O’Keeffe who spent much of his life on the high seas with the Merchant Navy, but always returned to the town where he was born, has died at the age of 93.
Mr O’Keeffe who died on November 19 donated his body for medical research and a gathering in his memory was held at Marlborough Conservative Club.
His father was an Irishman who married into the Dunford grocery family in Marlborough and Mr O’Keeffe’s grandparents ran Dunford’s grocery shop in the High Street with his mother. Later she continued the family business in The Parade where, during a break from his Merchant Navy service, Johnny O’Keeffe opened a grocery store.
He was born in The Parade and went to St Peter’s Boys School before joining Marlborough Golf Club as an assistant to the professional.
Amazingly for a man who was to spend so much time at sea, he became a scratch golfer and his love of the game remained until the end of his life. Daughter Angela Dodman said: “After his wife and family, golfing was one of his greatest passions.”
Aged 16 when World War Two started, he joined the Merchant Navy and served on Atlantic Conveys carrying food and supplies to Russia and to Allied countries.
In recent years he belatedly received the Legion d’Honneur from the French Government and the Ushakov medal from Russia. He had previously received the Atlantic Convoy Medal.
He took a break from his navy service and continued the family tradition opening his own grocery shop in The Parade. But the call of the sea became too much for him and he re-joined the Merchant Navy and served on the QE2 when she ferried troops to the Falklands in 1982.
His daughter said: “My father loved the sea and the navy, but he always looked forward to coming home to Marlborough.”
Mr O’Keeffe’s wife Tess died in 2010 after the couple had celebrated their diamond wedding at their home in York Place.
He was Marlborough’s town cryer from 1988-93 when he handed over to Alfie Johnson, who has also recently retired.
He was a stalwart member of the Royal British Legion and always joined the Remembrance Day parade proudly wearing his medals.
In later years he continued his love for travel by touring the UK and Western Europe on trips with Barnes Coaches.
Sadly Mr and Mrs O’Keeffe lost their son Kevin in tragic circumstances and he is survived by his daughter Angela, seven grandchildren and by his older brother Michael, who emigrated to Canada after the second world war.
Johnny O’Keeffe was remembered and his service to the town marked when town councillors stood in silent respect during last week’s full meeting of the Town Council (December 12).