Friday, March 15, 2019

Before the memory fades: Lawrence J.Keddy: industrialist, philanthropist, entrepreneur, animal lover, genius

By Walter Lunt

Two disparate Windham institutions bear the name Keddy. One rescues and rehabilitates abused and neglected horses, the other is now an abandoned mill that once employed dozens of workers in the manufacture of steel products.

Lawrence James Keddy was born New Year’s Day, 1918. His father died when Lawrence was young. He and his two brothers were brought up in a modest household by their single mother in Lynn, Massachusetts. To help keep the fires burning during Depression-era winters, the brothers would scour nearby railroad tracks in search of chunks of coal that had dropped from train cars. While in high school, Lawrence bought a cow and sold milk to his neighbors for 7 cents a quart.

Lawrence James Keddy, 1918 - 2000.
Keddy graduated high school and attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he studied engineering. He left before graduating, feeling he had learned all M.I.T. could offer.

A friend once told of a chance meeting he had in a restaurant with Keddy. The friend, who also had an engineering background, was befuddled with a design problem at his plant. The two pondered over the issue briefly before Keddy picked up a napkin and drew out a corrected design. He had solved the problem on the spot.

During World War II, Keddy was recruited by the Defense Department to improve the guidance system in the noses of bombs.

A friend once called him a genius.

By the 1960s and 70s, Keddy, feeling the entrepreneurial spirit, began researching investment in certain industries, particularly steel. He purchased and ran several mills and hydroelectric stations around the state. In 1978, he bought an aging plant on the Windham side of the Presumpscot River in South Windham. It was formerly a pulp and paper mill, then a steel manufacturing facility. Keddy renovated the structure and redesigned its power plant. For the next 15 years, Keddy Mill Enterprises produced flanges (steel ribbing) that sold all over the world. It was an economic shot-in-the-arm for the small Windham-Gorham neighborhood that had begun the slow process of deterioration. Later, the mill would switch to the production of rebar, but ultimately foreign competition would force closure in 1993.

Keddy became a wealthy industrialist, overseeing his various properties in a private helicopter. But his life was about to change.

It was during this time, living in Falmouth, Maine that he met the love his life. Through a mutual friend, he was introduced to Marylyn Goodreau, then a bank worker. The two discovered they had a common interest: a strong and abiding love of animals.

 “He was a workaholic,” said Goodreau, “(but) I think, through me, he recognized there was something else in life.”

Sickened by the reality of abused and neglected pets, they vowed that, together, they would do something “to enhance the lives of (abused) animals.”

Keddy learned of the State of Maine’s intention to sell or lease a farmhouse, barn and 124 acres of property on River Road near the Maine Correctional Center in South Windham. He and Goodreau visited the site. Both saw the potential of its open fields, woodland and rolling hills as a perfect place for the “enhancement of the lives of animals.” Keddy, who was now president of the Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals, leased the property.

Up to that time there was no facility in Maine for abused large animals. Keddy moved the M.S.S.P.A. headquarters from Portland to Windham where he and Goodreau established a sanctuary for abused animals, large and small. Goodreau recalls the first animals to be placed at the Society:  Silver and Rawdy, a pair of horses from out of town. “You could see their backbones and ribs.” Ultimately, the two were nursed back to health and adopted into a new home.

Most of the animals at the Society were placed there by State Humane Agents, who investigate abuse and neglect complaints. It was felt by many that animal welfare laws in the late 20th century were weak by modern standards. Keddy lobbied successfully for the establishment of an animal welfare board that would promote education and stricter regulations for the protection of animals.

Goodreau remembers one case of cruelty that highlighted Keddy’s selfless dedication to animal welfare.  A standard-bred mare named Hannah was brought to the Society early one evening in late winter.

“She was malnourished and had a broken pelvis. It was like taking a skeleton and applying flesh over it. We called a vet who recommended euthanasia, but I would have no part of that.”

Keddy agreed. That night he called in workers from his mill; working all night, they fit the horse, too weak to stand, into a sling, which hung from the rafters of the barn. Hannah required 24-hour supervision for several weeks. Goodreau, who slept on hay bales in the barn, provided round-the-clock care, tending to the mare’s every need. “Towards the end we had to lower her gradually,” 

Goodreau explained, “slowly increasing the weight on her legs. Keddy visited every day to monitor the horse’s progress. Miraculously, Hannah survived and lived out the remainder of her life on a farm in Fryeburg.

By 1989, Keddy had purchased the farmhouse and its 124 acres. The Society now owned it, free and clear. In addition, he financed construction of a large horse barn with 24 new and spacious stalls. Goodreau says it’s impossible to know how many horses have been placed and rehabilitated over the years, but easily, its numbers in the hundreds.

As the president of M.S.S.P.A., Keddy was responsible for hiring both paid and volunteer staff. An applicant for a part-time public relations position in the early 1980s described the interview process this way: “Resume in hand, I arrived on time for my interview with Mr. Keddy. We met in his tiny office at the M.S.S.P.A. farm in Windham. He greeted me warmly and put me at ease right away. He noted that my credentials fit the job description and started asking me questions. 

The session went well, and I felt the job offer was imminent. Although friendly and affable, my interviewer seemed restrained, so I waited for the loaded question. Instead, he signaled by voice command to someone in the adjoining office. At that moment, a door opened abruptly and like the collective energy of a microburst, nine dogs of all breeds and sizes came bounding into the office – all aimed toward me. Tongues were flapping, tails were a blur, and soon my face was smeared with spittle and my new suit coat and pants coated with dog hair. That they were friendly and eager to greet a stranger was obvious, so I was not alarmed. All competed for my hand to pat heads, but most of my welcoming gestures missed the mark due to their frenzied excitement. I glanced over at Mr. Keddy during this frenetic display. He was grinning ear to ear as he exclaimed, “You’re hired young man. I just had to make sure you were comfortable around animals.” It was, to be sure, the most unusual and creative job interview I ever had.”

Keddy’s interest in animals went beyond household pets. In addition to purchasing the River Road property for the Society, he also bought land off Gambo Road in the Newhall section of Windham. He kept the land in its natural state for conservation and for wildlife protection. While surveying the property, he discovered a mysterious gravesite. The headstone was moss-covered and overgrown in trees and bushes; the inscription read “In memory of Malsee, General Hooton’s faithful Greyhound. Born in Montana 1894. Died 1908 with First Regt at Chickamauga in Spanish War.”

In addition to being puzzled by the solitary placement of the grave site, Keddy was moved by it. He had a steel fence built around the headstone and kept it free of bushes and fallen tree limbs.
Keddy and the late historian Kay Soldier researched the information on the headstone for over a decade with no success. Keddy died in 2000 never having learned the story behind the mysterious dog grave.

Over the following years, local resident Alan Anderson researched and uncovered the story of Gen. Hooton and his dog (The Windham Eagle - June 15, 2018, The story behind Gambo’s mysterious dog grave).

Goodreau said, “Lawrence would have loved to (read that story). It would have popped the buttons right off his shirt.”

Marilyn Goodreau and Lawrence Keddy were together for over 40 years, and in that time built a sanctuary for abused animals and a relationship built on understanding, respect and deep love.

“He was a very good man, generous and kind-hearted. And he had a beautiful smile. One that I can still remember.” shared Goodreau. “And the animals, he had a very deep and honest sensitivity to their being. And, he was a genius, you know.” <

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