When Jeanne Keevil was a college student at the University of Oregon in the 1940s, journalism was a man’s world.
When male students who had served during World War II began returning to school as the war ended, Keevil, like the other women on the staff of the Daily Emerald, the university’s independent, student-run newspaper, turned their roles over to them, her daughter, Connie Quinley, said.
At the time, Quinley said, that was perceived to be the right thing to do. But roughly two decades after her college graduation, it would be Keevil at the helm of a newspaper.
“The best part of her career, and the longest piece of it, was for the Irvine World News,” Quinley said.
The Irvine World News, brought under the Register’s wing in 2000, was started as a community paper in 1970, a year before Irvine was incorporated as a city. Keevil was hired as its first editor in 1971, and covered the city since its Dec. 28, 1971 incorporation. She remained in that role until her retirement in 1992.
Keevil died in Portland, Oregon, on Dec. 15 at the age of 96.
During Keevil’s tenure at the Irvine World News, the city saw rapid transformation, including residential development, a push to be environmentally clean and the expansion of UC Irvine.
She was the 1989 recipient of the Orange County Press Club’s John (Sky) Dunlap Award, its highest honor presented to a journalist for their achievements in journalism and community involvement. She is also an honoree in Irvine’s “Wall of Recognition,” which honors those who have made significant contributions to the city.
Keevil would sometimes describe hardships she faced covering what was then a fledgling city, said Quinley. She would butt heads with city officials, most often men.
“She was a champion for the paper. She was a champion for good journalism,” Quinley said. “And that, coming from a woman, didn’t go over very well sometimes.”
Keevil was both “a lady and a newspaper person,” Quinley said. “She walked a fine line between the very plain-spoken newspaper world — people smoked and a lot of journalists drank at work in the old, old days — and very, very proper city woman.”
“She was her own woman,” longtime Irvine World News editor Don Dennis said of Keevil. “Integrity was her strongest point. She was honest, by-the-book when it came to journalistic integrity. And she was a real lady. Very polite with immaculate manners. A great friend.”
Dennis, who worked with Keevil starting in 1976 and replaced her when she retired in 1992, said Keevil represented the strength of the Irvine World News. From the beginning to the end of his time as editor, Dennis said he would often ask himself, “What would Jeanne do here?”
“That stuck with me until my retirement,” said Dennis, who retired in 2010. “I would try to live up to it, but frankly, it’s hard to live up to the example she set. She was a very strong woman who stuck to her principles.”
Tim Burt, who spent more than 30 years as the sports editor for the Irvine World News, described Keevil as a “remarkable woman and editor.”
“So kind and supportive and a great friend,” he said.
Even after her retirement, Keevil couldn’t stay away from reading and writing, Quinley said. A lifelong Presbyterian, Keevil dedicated her later years to writing a column for Portland’s Kenilworth Presbyterian Church, and before that, she wrote and produced the newsletter for the Presbyterian Church of the Master in Mission Viejo for many years.
“She couldn’t exist without a newspaper,” Quinley said. “Every town she went to, she would buy their paper.”
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Keevil’s love for reading and writing rubbed off on her daughters, both born in Newport Beach. Quinley, now a resident of Anchorage, Alaska, said she briefly freelanced for various publications. Her older sister, Katie Essick, works as a freelance editor in Portland and spent many years as a writer and editor for publications in both California and Oregon, including the Associated Press, The Oregonian and The Portland Tribune.
Keevil was born in 1927 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and raised in Springfield. She briefly moved to San Diego in January 1944 due to her father’s military career but soon relocated to Oregon to attend college that year. After she graduated with a degree in journalism in 1948, she moved back to California and worked at papers in Riverside and San Joaquin counties.
Around 1952, she met Thomas Keevil, who was then the editor of the Banning Record. After they married in 1954, the Keevils moved to Costa Mesa, where they joined what would become the Daily Pilot — Jeanne Keevil as a reporter and Thomas Keevil as an editor. The couple divorced in 1966, and Thomas Keevil died in 1988.
Jeanne Keevil went on to work at the Leisure World News and the Saddleback Valley News before she was hired by the Irvine World News in 1971.
“She loved journalism. She earned a career she never regretted,” Quinley said.
A memorial service is planned for Saturday, Jan. 20, in Portland. For details, contact the family at JSKeevil@gmail.com.