[Congressional Record Volume 157, Number 186 (Tuesday, December 6, 2011)]
[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages E2191-E2192]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]

                        TO COMMUNITY AND COUNTRY


                        HON. BENNIE G. THOMPSON

                             of mississippi

                    in the house of representatives

                       Tuesday, December 6, 2011

  Mr. THOMPSON of Mississippi. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor a 
World War II hero, entrepreneur, philanthropist and outstanding public 
servant, Mr. Jeremiah ``Jerry'' Joseph O'Keefe.
  A native of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, Jeremiah Joseph O'Keefe was 
born July 12, 1923, in a gracious antebellum home constructed by his 
grandfather. When Jeremiah O'Keefe was 13 years old, the family lost 
their home during the Depression and relocated to Biloxi, Mississippi. 
In Biloxi, Mr. O'Keefe attended Sacred Heart Academy high school, where 
during his senior year he was co-captain of the school's football team.
  Mr. O'Keefe was attending Soule Business College when the Japanese 
bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941 and he quickly offered to serve his country 
by enlisting in the United States Navy. He would join the Aviation 
Cadet Program of the United States Navy in June 1942,

[[Page E2192]]

and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps 
and designated a Naval Aviator on June 16, 1943. In 1945, Mr. O'Keefe, 
then a 1st Lieutenant, and his 24-plane fighter squadron, ``the Death 
Rattlers,'' deployed upon Okinawa where they would participate in his 
first aerial combat. Their assignment was to prevent repeated nightly 
Japanese aerial attacks in the harbor. An ``ace'' fighter pilot, Mr. 
O'Keefe was credited with shooting down a total of seven Japanese 
airplanes in the Battle of Okinawa, including five in one day. At the 
age of 21, Mr. O'Keefe became one of the youngest ``Aces'' in World War 
II. For his meritorious efforts, he was awarded the United States Navy 
Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, and the Gold Star.
  Following World War II, Mr. O'Keefe obtained a degree in business 
administration from Loyola University and went to work with his father 
in the family funeral business. In 1958, he purchased Bradford Funeral 
Service and merged it with the O'Keefe family business to create 
Bradford-O'Keefe Funeral Home. That same year, Mr. O'Keefe founded Gulf 
National Life (GNL) Insurance Company. Over the course of several 
decades, GNL acquired a number of other smaller companies and became 
the largest insurer in Mississippi with over 200 affiliated funeral 
  Deeply rooted in politics on the Gulf Coast, Mr. O'Keefe's 
grandfather was alderman-at-large in Ocean Springs. In 1935, Jerry 
O'Keefe's uncle, John O'Keefe served as Mayor of Biloxi for two years, 
before resigning to become an Adjutant General in the Mississippi 
National Guard. Jerry O'Keefe was elected to the Mississippi State 
Legislature seven years later in 1959 and served one four-year term. 
Mr. O'Keefe was elected Mayor of Biloxi in 1973 and served eight years. 
Known as an energetic and innovative mayor, he was awarded Biloxi's 
Citizen of the Year in 1976.
  As mayor, Mr. O'Keefe was a strong proponent for civil rights and the 
advancement of the African-American community. While mayor of Biloxi, 
he confronted the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) by rescinding a permit they 
received to hold a parade in the town. When the KKK proceeded with the 
parade, he had them arrested. Mr. O'Keefe was guided by his moral 
compass and ethical disposition during a time when few stood up against 
the Ku Klux Klan for fear of retribution. Mr. O'Keefe received death 
threats and the KKK burned a cross in front of his house. Still, Jerry 
O'Keefe stood his ground.
  After three decades of politics, Mr. O'Keefe shifted his focus to 
fundraising and philanthropy. He has been a supporter and donor to 
numerous organizations, schools, and museums. In 1967 and 1975, Mr. 
O'Keefe received awards from the United Fund Campaign for Distinguished 
Service to the people of Harrison County. He has been the recipient of 
the Pine Burr Area Boy Scouts of America's Lifetime Achievement Award. 
In 1995, he and his wife, Annette, founded The O'Keefe Foundation with 
an initial endowment of $10 million. The foundation is the primary 
financial sponsor of The New Hope Center in Ocean Springs, a center for 
disabled youth. Additionally, the foundation supports numerous 
organizations throughout the state and the greater Gulf Coast region 
which includes the Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities, St. John's 
and Mercy Cross High Schools, Habitat for Humanity, Shaw University, 
Tougaloo College, St. Alphonsus Elementary School, YMCA, the St. 
Vincent Depaul Society, the Walter Anderson Museum, Boys and Girls 
Clubs, Christians United of Jackson County, and the City of Ocean 
  Mr. O'Keefe and his first wife, Annette Saxon O'Keefe, have 13 
children. He and his later wife, Martha, have worked to reinforce 
family bonds through regular church attendance, Sunday dinners, and 
family vacations. Mr. O'Keefe is an active member in the Nativity 
B.V.M. Cathedral.
  Mr. Speaker, I ask that my colleagues join me in expressing my 
sincere gratitude to Mr. Jeremiah ``Jerry'' Joseph O'Keefe of Ocean 
Springs, Mississippi for his service to the state of Mississippi and to 
this country.