St. Patrick of Spokane
The saintly obsession that has consumed my pal, Tom Keefe, all began over a beard.
Ah, but what a beard! Full. White. Wavy. Keefe sports the sort of storied whiskers that would put the average mall Santa into therapy for depression.
Keefe swears he grew the thing so he could look like an old Irish grandfather when photographed holding his first grandson, Patrick, which qualifies as a portent if you’re into that sort of thing.
Enter the O’Dohertys, Tim and wife Sam, whose surname adorns their popular Irish Pub & Grill in downtown Spokane. Taking note of Keefe’s hirsuteness, they asked if he’d be willing to help jazz up the 2013 St. Patrick’s Day rush by impersonating the blessed guy Himself.
“Never disappoint the man who mixes your drinks,” quips Keefe of his acquiescence. Not to mention that Keefe already owed the O’Dohertys—big time. Tim, in particular, has allowed his pub to become the home dugout for The Eddie Gaedel Society, the offbeat organization Keefe dreamed up to commemorate a 3-foot-7 actor who once came to bat in a major league baseball game. (Really. Look it up.)
The O’Dohertys, however, had no clue that they had unleashed a force of manic magnitude. Hah! None of us did.
Six years later, 70-year-old Keefe has honed his holy transmogrification into a hyperactive tour de farce. Garbed in authentic green-and-gold vestments (“Bought ‘em on eBay from the defrocked priest store.”), Keefe glad-hands strangers, poses for selfies and gives away custom prayer cards and fliers all bearing his inspirational visage.
“Hardest working saint in show business!” Keefe says of himself with glee. No argument here. Consider a portion of Keefe’s upcoming itinerary:
March 12, 6 p.m. St. Patrick appears at O’Doherty’s Irish Pub & Grill for the unveiling of a sizable mural depicting (who else?) Keefe as St. Paddy. “There will be music, dancing and libations,” he vows.
March 13. St. Patrick instructs Spokane youth at St. Anne’s Children’s Center and All Saints School on the proper way to sing, “Sean, Sean the Leprechaun.”
Sean, Sean the Leprechaun,
“Lives in big oak tree.
“And all the children look for him,
“When I was young,” Keefe explains, “the nuns at Christ the King school in Seattle made me stand on a stool on St. Patrick’s Day and lead the class in singing it because I was Irish.”
Guess you could call this parochial payback, huh?
March 15. On to Seattle to: help Mayor Jenny Durkan proclaim the Irish festivities in a luncheon; take a boat ride on Lake Union with Ireland’s Lord Mayor of Galway; reenact the kidnapping of St. Patrick by pirates; and help paint a green stripe along Fourth Avenue in the Emerald City’s downtown.
March 16. A “celebrity appearance” at the 35th annual St. Patrick’s Day Dash, featuring hundreds of T-shirts all emblazoned with Keefe’s saintly image. Later, Keefe plans to imbed himself at the Seattle Center, signing autographs and posing for photos as part of the Irish Week Festival.
Yikes. Just writing the above several paragraphs gave me a case of the shamrock shakes and I don’t mean McDonald’s.
See, I tagged along with Keefe for a similar assault on Seattle’s 2017 Irish shindig. The following excerpt from a column I wrote should explain things:
Snoqualmie Pass was closed when we left Spokane on Thursday. That led to a 10-plus-hour journey through Yakima and over White Pass.
If that sounds like a hellish long time to be cooped up in a rental SUV, you really have no idea.
Saying he wanted to get me in the proper mood, Keefe filled the vehicle’s airspace with a nonstop barrage of Irish music.
The worst part was that every other song in this marathon concert seemed to deal with some aspect of human misery, like hanging, alcoholism, lost love, famine or 800 years of being crushed under the cruel boot heel of England.
One bouncy “nursery rhyme” sung by The Dubliners told the story of a woman who stabbed her infant child in the heart.
Keefe was right. This did get me in the mood – the mood for opening the car door and hurling myself in front of oncoming traffic.
Here’s my takeaway from what I’ve witnessed: Once Keefe dons the garb and enters the Patrick Zone, THERE’S NO BLOODY OFF SWITCH!! Showtime lasts as long as Keefe’s in costume and there is someone to regale.
While still in Seattle, I wrote my final column on our journey in a Mexican eatery just to get a cultural breather from Irish overload. Then I waited inside Nordstrom, praying for Keefe to please end this thing so we could go home.
And I waited. And I waited….
Yet every time I called Keefe on my cell he would tell me not to worry, he’d be there in 15 minutes. Then another hour would crawl by and I’d punch the numbers and he’d tell me to hold tight, he’d be there in 15 minutes.
And so I sat, my mind spinning dark fantasies about committing St. Patricide. Finally, Keefe arrived. He told me he hadn’t been able to get away. He’d just kept encountering more souls in need of uplifting.
Look, Keefe means well. I know that. He’s a standup guy. Witty. Wicked smart. He’s on a mission to spread happiness. And kiss babies. And shake hands. And tell the world about who the real St. Patrick was.
“He was truly a human rights crusader,” says Keefe. “I read about him as kid. My grandmother, Elizabeth Murphy, hated the way St. Patrick’s Day had deteriorated into an excuse to get drunk on green beer and vomit on your shoes.”
Last year, Keefe carted his duds to Ireland where he spent four months gallivanting as St. Patrick through places like Dublin and Clondalkin and Skibbereen and Ballydehob. The madding masses, he says, couldn’t get enough of him.
“That’s because I don’t imitate St. Patrick, I channel him,” he explains. “I adopt St. Patrick and add some show biz. You gotta work the crowd.”
Perhaps you’re wondering how far Keefe intends to take this. Well, the letter that arrived a few weeks ago at Keefe’s South Howard Street office should provide an answer.
It was from Seamus Woulfe, attorney general of Ireland, which is pretty cool when you think about it. But here’s what got Keefe’s juices going:
Woulfe addressed his letter to…
“St. Patrick of Spokane.”
“Not to make too fine a point of it,” adds Keefe, “but such official validation is HUUUUUUGE on the modern sainthood circuit.”
They don’t call it March Madness for nothing.
Doug Clark is a Spokane native and lead singer/songwriter for his band, Trailer Park Girls. He recently retired from The Spokesman-Review after writing three columns a week for more than 30 years. Clark’s humor and general-interest commentaries have won scores of local, state and regional honors along with three awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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