John T. Keeton Jr. remembers the day he went to the late Dean Robert Farley at the University of Mississippi School of Law and asked to be admitted. Certainly not a traditional law school student in 1952, Keeton arrived on campus with a wife and three young children in tow.
“Dean Farley kindly accepted me when he could have chosen a younger student in my place,” says Keeton, an attorney and former state senator, who also has been instrumental in the regional health-care field. “I have felt indebted to him and the university for letting me fulfill my dream of earning a law degree.”
Generations of students are certain to share the same sentiments about Keeton and his wife, Margaret, of Grenada, Mississippi. Their three previous gifts to academics and athletics total some $1.5 million, and now they have announced a gift of 1,324 acres of timberland located primarily in Grenada County. One-half of this gift is to benefit Ole Miss, with the remainder designated for other local charitable organizations.
“John and Margaret Keeton have been building a remarkable legacy over many years, contributing time and resources to their immediate community, as well as to the larger community that encompasses the state and beyond,” says UM Chancellor Robert Khayat. “The Keetons have invested in the life of the University of Mississippi and in the lives of young people with their generous gifts, and we are profoundly grateful. This new gift of land demonstrates their unwavering commitment to strengthening this university and providing opportunities for others.”
Plans for the land include some acreage being held for long-term investment purposes, as well as acreage being sold as financially beneficial opportunities arise, says University of Mississippi Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer Wendell Weakley.
“John and Margaret Keeton are great Ole Miss people with a keen understanding of the need for academic and athletic financial support,” Weakley says. “Their gift of timberland will benefit Ole Miss students for generations to come. The highlight of my time thus far with the foundation has been getting to know our loyal alumni and friends, and it has been truly enjoyable to work with the Keetons.”
The Keetons have divided their gifts between academics and athletics, as well as supported an array of special projects at the university. An enthusiastic football fan, John Keeton says the couple considers needs all over campus.
“We appreciate what the university is doing: providing a reasonably priced, high-quality education,” John Keeton says. “We want to do some good for the children of Mississippi, the children of the world.”
Margaret Keeton agreed saying that “Ole Miss is a good investment” for young people and for donors. The couple has provided gifts through charitable unitrusts, which provide the donors’ lifetime income from these assets. Such assets are managed by, and will benefit, the university – the impact of which is felt throughout the university.
“A gift to athletics earlier this year from the Keetons has helped move forward our basketball practice facility. The impact of their most recent gift of land will have a tremendous impact of both academics and athletics,” says Director of Athletics Pete Boone, who also grew up in Grenada. “Mr. and Mrs. Keeton are great friends to Ole Miss and to me, personally. The Keetons have been an integral part of my life since birth. They have always been generous to worthwhile community endeavors.”
John Keeton began his undergraduate degree in 1941, and was a roommate of Grenada native William Winter, an attorney who went on to become governor of Mississippi. Keeton’s college days were interrupted when he served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. He returned to the university, completing his degree in 1947, the same year he sat on a bench in the Grove and proposed to Margaret Green, a fellow student and a girl he had known since childhood. They married that year.
His dream to attend law school, however, faded when his father died, and Keeton had to join his mother in operating the family’s dry goods store in Grenada. The family sold the store in 1952, and he made his way back to the university to earn a law degree. The Keetons settled in their hometown to establish a private law practice. After their three children were grown, Margaret Keeton completed her UM degree in social work.
At 29, John Keeton became the youngest Grenada County Chamber of Commerce president ever elected, and he and his wife have served in numerous leadership roles and remain active members of First Baptist Church of Grenada. John Keeton was elected to the Mississippi Senate for three terms, beginning in 1983. He retired in 1990 from his law firm he founded, Keeton & Embry.
The attorney’s decades of service on the boards of both the Memphis-based Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. and Baptist Memorial Health Care Foundation has impacted regional health-care services, and he also provided leadership on Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp.’s individual hospital boards in Oxford and Columbus, Mississippi. The Keetons’ philanthropic gifts also support the work of the Baptist Memorial Health Care Foundation.
The Keetons have one living son, Roy Keeton of Chattanooga, Tenn., and four grandchildren. Two of their grown sons, John T. Keeton III and Hal Keeton, have passed away. All three of their children attended the university.