The Exceptional Life of Katherine "Kay" Keating

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Beulah military pioneer dies at 87

Retired Navy captain achieved many firsts as a military woman

by Juan Espinosa

The exceptional life of Katherine "Kay" Keating came to an end this past Saturday at the Chateau at Sharmar Village in Pueblo. She was 87.

Perhaps best known for her three-decade long Navy career during which she saw duty in three wars – World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Keating was inducted into the Colorado Woman’s Hall of Fame in March 2008. In August of 2008, she was selected honorary Colorado State Fair parade marshal.

Born in Pueblo on Feb. 8, 1922, to Lawrence and Cecil Keating, she graduated from Central High School in 1940 and Pueblo Junior College two years later. She joined the WAVES in 1942 and shipped out to Hawaii as a radio operator, sometimes working out of an underground station in a pineapple field, she recalled in a 2006 interview.

     kay_keatingFollowing World War II, she returned to college to earn her pharmacy degree, and re-enlisted in the Navy in 1948 for a career. She became the first woman to be promoted up the ladder from seaman recruit to captain; the first woman to replace a man at sea, aboard the USS Haven hospital ship during the Korean War; and was the third woman to achieve captain’s rank in the Navy Medical Service Corps. She was discharged in 1972.


Among her many decorations as a veteran of three wars, Keating also received the Meritorious Service Medal upon retirement and the U.S.

Surgeon General’s Certificate of Merit as a pharmacist.

After separation from the military, Keating returned to Beulah where she ran a horse ranch and bed and breakfast. She was well known to many Puebloans for her horse-and-wagon teams that have graced many a parade and other occasions, including weddings, funerals and were featured in movies.

Keating said her favorite memory of her teamster days was driving the Silver Queen in a two-seat carriage in the State Fair parade. "The horse stepped out in the street and she told me, *Seventy-eight years ago today, I rode in a carriage just like this on my wedding day.* She died not long after, but I was glad I could give her that ride," Keating said.

   Her niece, Pat Smith, told of a different kind of heroics. When she was 13 and her brother was 10 years old, she said, her mother "hit bottom" and Keating, who was serving in the military, then took on the job of raising her sister’s two children.

She wasn’t allowed to have dependents with her, but her commanding officer turned a blind eye to the two kids, the grandmother and the baby sitter occupying her house and the Navy also managed to keep her within commuting distance until the children were on their own, Smith said.  "Who would have had the guts to take on somebody else’s two teenage kids?" Smith wondered. Smith and her husband looked after Keating on the ranch for the past 11 years.

In the 2006 interview, Keating expressed her love for her hometown. "It’s been a great time to live, and if we have to go right now, we’ve had a good time . . . I managed to get clear around the world, and I never found a better town than Pueblo."

Smith said her aunt, who could easily have been buried in Arlington National Cemetery, "Wanted to be in Beulah."

Keating was preceded in death by her sister Betty Lou Keating Hart Roach; brother John Francis Keating and nephew Sammy Hart. She is survived by her sister-in-law Katsuko Keating, Denver; nephews Larry Keating, Tenn., James Hart, Calif.; nieces Pat (Don) Smith, Beulah, and May Roach, Calif., and grand and great-grand nieces and nephews in Washington and California.

 

1 COMMENT

  1. This lady was the United States Navy at its best, she looked out for her people and family. To go from seaman apprentice to captain is a great accomplish in any era, but in that time frame, it was especially difficult. I take my hat off to a great lady and an American hero.

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