Maureen Derrick Keeler passed away peacefully at Ashford Assisted Living/Memory Care in Draper, Utah on July 12, 2022, at the age of 85. Maureen joins her parents, Milton and Edith Derrick, and numerous aunts, uncles, cousins, and other relations in a wonderful reunion that confirms the reality of life after death. Maureen was a faithful, endowed member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She lived a full, complete, productive, and happy life and was married to her husband, Bob, for over 54 years. Maureen is survived by her two sisters, Carole and Debbie, her brother Milt, her husband, four wonderful children, Hilary (Jay), Alyson (Derek), Brett (Suzanne), and Jeffrey, 20 lovely and lively grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Maureen was born on May 25, 1937, in Salt Lake City, Utah. She spent her earliest years in Sacramento, California, where her father, Milt, worked for the Associated Press as a teletype operator. Before long, the family moved to Seattle, Washington, where they initially lived among the pine trees north of the city. Maureen remembers that when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, her dad, as a teletype operator, got early news of the attack, and said that “we are going to war.” Maureen thought he meant their family was going to war, since she was too young to understand what it meant for nations to go to war.
When Maureen was about ten years old, the family moved back to Salt Lake City, where she grew up near 5th Avenue and K Street. Maureen attended Bryant Junior High School and East High School, where she worked on the student newspaper, sang with Loraine Bowman’s A Capella Choir, and graduated in 1955.
Maureen attended the University of Utah, where, as a senior and education major, she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, the Daily Utah Chronicle. On page 269 of the 1959 Utonion yearbook, editor Maureen is pictured interviewing then-Vice President Richard M. Nixon. Several months prior to her graduation, Maureen was offered a job on the staff of U.S. Congressman David S. King. She arranged to finish an undergraduate major in journalism while serving on Congressman King’s staff in Washington, D.C. She graduated in 1959.
Maureen served on Congressman King’s staff for four years, until he was defeated by his republican rival in November 1962. Two of Maureen’s fond memories of her time in Washington were riding in a convertible with U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy, and attending the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, where Senator Kennedy was nominated for President.
After Congressman King was defeated, Maureen was offered an opportunity to attend Brigham Young University as a graduate student, where she earned a master’s degree in English literature. While taking graduate classes, she taught Freshman English as a graduate assistant. After earning her master’s degree in 1964, she taught Freshman English, Introduction to Literature, and creative writing. In the fall of 1967, however, her life took a decidedly different turn.
That summer, she had attended an LDS gospel doctrine class taught by her future husband, Bob Keeler. She was sufficiently impressed that she tried to tell him afterward she thought he did a good job, but he was late for a lunch date and had to hustle off. “Humph,” she thought. “So much for that.” She spent the rest of the summer with her sister, Carole and her husband, Gary, in Alaska.
She returned to BYU that fall to continue living with her roommates, fellow faculty members Mae Blanche and Sue Ream, and Janice Piccollo, assistant to one of the faculty deans. It was then that Maureen’s bishop assigned Bob as leader of their family home evening group. During that fall semester, Maureen and Bob became close friends as the group worked on a joint project to save several hundred dollars to contribute to the construction of the new Provo Temple. During the following semester break, Maureen and Bob started dating, and ten days later, they became engaged. They were married in the Salt Lake Temple on June 7, 1968, with Bob’s father, Ralph Keeler, performing the ceremony as a newly ordained Temple sealer.
That fall, Maureen and Bob moved to Seattle, Washington, where Bob had earned a fellowship to pursue a PhD in comparative literature at the University of Washington. To help support them, Maureen secured a faculty position at the University teaching Freshman English. After the school year, she found a job as the executive assistant to the administrator of the University hospital.
It wasn’t long, though, before Bob became disenchanted with studying literature and decided to pursue a law degree instead. After completing his master’s degree, Maureen and Bob moved to Berkeley, California, where Bob attended the Boalt Hall School of Law. Maureen again found work in the medical field, this time as the executive assistant to the administrator of the Kaiser Foundation Hospital in neighboring Oakland. Meanwhile, Bob found a job managing a medium-sized apartment building just north of the Berkeley campus. That’s where their daughter Hilary joined the family. They adopted her as a new-born infant in September 1972. Her first bedroom was a large closet with an outside window for light and air.
After Bob graduated from law school, they moved to Los Angeles, where Maureen taught evening classes with the UCLA Extension Division. Later, she again turned to the medical field and worked as a discharge planner in a local hospital. In the meantime, Alyson was born in January 1974, followed by Brett in December 1976.
Maureen and Bob had a life-changing experience with the birth of their youngest child, Jeffrey, in November 1982. He suffered a host of developmental problems during pregnancy, and nearly died at birth. He spent his first three months in the neo-natal intensive care unit at the Kaiser hospital in West Los Angeles. The experience had a devastating impact on Maureen and sent her into a serious post-partum depression. But she knew that her family responsibilities required her to be well, so she committed herself voluntarily to the Kaiser depression hospital near downtown Los Angeles. She worked extremely hard with her therapists, sought a Priesthood blessing from a visiting LDS general authority, and fortunately was placed on an anti-depressant that worked wonders for her. She recovered from the depression in two weeks, but the doctors wanted her to stay in the hospital for two additional weeks in case she had a relapse. There was no relapse, and she was discharged back to her family.
This experience fundamentally changed Maureen’s life. While in the hospital, she came to appreciate the vast difference in effectiveness between caregivers who had experienced childbirth and depression and those who had not. She decided she would become one of the effective caregivers. When Jeffrey was old enough to begin attending school, Maureen identified a special school for the disabled in West Los Angeles that was ideal for Jeffrey’s needs. Shortly thereafter, she enrolled in the social work program at California State University in Long Beach to obtain a master’s degree in social work. Fortunately, Cal State Long Beach has a very flexible program designed to accommodate people who can’t attend school full time. Maureen was able to continue to meet her family and church responsibilities while attending school classes only on Saturdays. She completed her master’s degree in social work in four years.
Some of the professors in Maureen’s program were also in charge of the medical social work program at Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital in south Los Angeles. After Maureen graduated, she applied for and was hired as a social worker in the neo-natal intensive care unit at MLK Hospital under the direction of Dr. Xelina Bean. Because of the time Jeffrey had spent in intensive care as an infant, and because of Maureen’s resulting post-partum depression, she knew first-hand what the parents of babies in intensive care were going through. This made her one of the most effective social workers that MLK Hospital ever had. She later branched out into pediatric intensive care, and subsequently became a social work supervisor. Maureen was at MLK for eleven years, before she retired in 2004. She often said that working there was the most interesting and satisfying employment she ever had. “I never had a dull day at the hospital,” she would say.
While raising Hilary, Alyson, and Brett presented Maureen and Bob with most of the usual parental challenges, raising Jeffrey was in a class by itself. They became aware of his many disabilities only one at a time as he would fail to develop normally from month to month. At first it was his inability to suck, which required his doctors to insert a feeding tube through his stomach wall. Then his feeding tube became dislodged, spilling baby formula into his abdominal cavity and causing a raging infection, which required emergency surgery to save his life.
Shortly thereafter, they discovered that Jeffrey could suck if they held his cheeks together around the nipple. This enabled Jeffrey to feed more or less normally, and he began to thrive. The problem, they learned later, was that Jeffrey has a condition known as Moebius Syndrome. This means that he either lacks the normal muscles that enable his face to move and change expression, or his facial muscles lack the necessary nerve connections. In either case, he can’t change the expression of his face, and he can’t purse his lips to suck on a nipple or a straw.
Jeffrey also has corneal anesthesia in his right eye, which means that he has no sensation of pain in that eye. When he was young, he would scratch the cornea until he blinded himself in his right eye. Fortunately, he sees more or less normally out of his left eye, but he has no depth perception. He also has no blink reflex, so he must be given eye drops about every two hours to keep his eyes moist.
When Jeffrey was several months old and started to learn to crawl, his left arm was too weak to support his torso, and he would fall over. He quickly learned to compensate by rolling instead of crawling. As it turned out, the entire left side of his body is underdeveloped, making it impossible for Jeffrey to either crawl or walk; he must spend his entire life in a stroller or a wheelchair. But even as an adult, when Jeffrey is not in his wheelchair, he is expert at rolling across the floor to wherever he wants to go.
Next, Jeffrey never learned how to talk. At first, Maureen and Bob thought he was deaf, but an astute audiologist determined that Jeffrey is not deaf. Rather, his brain does not process sound. He hears sounds, but his brain cannot make sense of them – to him, everything is just garbled noise. As a result, he can neither hear, nor speak. In many ways, that is worse than being deaf.
All these disabilities have a common origin. When Jeffrey was still quite young, Maureen requested his doctor to order an MRI to see if his brain showed some clue to his many disabilities. The images show a very unusual brain structure, with numerous deep folds and some missing parts. Jeffrey’s brain had failed to develop normally during pregnancy. This explains his many disabilities, but no one knows why his brain turned out the way it did.
One final disability remained to be dealt with. For years, Jeffrey would either throw up or have bad reflux after most meals. This was caused by an underdeveloped sphincter muscle where the esophagus connects with the stomach. A well-known surgical procedure, called a fundoplication, can correct this condition. But the candidate’s stomach must be large enough to allow a flap of stomach to be sewn around the bottom of the esophagus. When the stomach fills with food, the flap also fills, thus closing off the esophagus. Jeffrey was about eight or nine when the procedure was performed for him. It was completely successful and cured his reflux problem.
Maureen and Bob raised Jeffrey in their home until his growing size made caring for him at home no longer possible. Maureen used her social work skills and contacts to find a care center called Hillside House in Santa Barbara that would be ideal for meeting Jeffrey’s needs. For the next nineteen years, Maureen and Bob drove 100 miles to Santa Barbara and 100 miles back to Los Angeles every two weeks so they could visit Jeffrey regularly. Once he adjusted to the routine, Jeffrey seemed content and even happy.
In May 2013, Maureen and Bob moved back to Utah, where they placed Jeffrey in the West Jordan Care Center, a facility very much like Hillside House in Santa Barbara. Now they were able to visit him twice a week, instead of only twice a month. The Keeler family has had many difficult and meaningful challenges over the years. Maureen’s faith, education and training has enabled her to respond effectively and courageously to them all. Both the family and Jeffrey will be eternally grateful for the leading role she has played in our lives.
There will be a viewing Friday, July 15 from 6-8 pm at Anderson & Goff Mortuary, 11859 South 700 East, Draper, UT 84020.
Funeral services will be held Saturday, July 16 at 11:00 am at the LDS Chapel at 272 E. Traverse Point Rd., Draper, UT 84020, with a viewing from 10:00-10:45 am. Interment Saturday afternoon at Provo Cemetery for family.
The funeral will be live-streamed on the Anderson & Goff Mortuary Facebook page.
In lieu of flowers, please donate to one of the following causes near and dear to Maureen:
Southern Poverty Law Center
World Wildlife Fund
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary