John W. Keys, III, 66, of Moab, died May 30, 2008 when the Cessna 172 airplane he was flying crashed in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. He was piloting a scenic flight for Redtail Aviation. Cause of the fatal flight is still under investigation.
John was born to John W. Keys, II and Alma Stutts Keys in Sheffield, Ala., graduating from Sheffield High School in 1960. He earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Georgia Tech in 1964 and a master’s degree from Brigham Young University in 1971.
He began work for the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation in 1964, a career that eventually spanned 39 years. Beginning at Provo, Utah, he also served at Bismark, N.D., Billings, Mont., Denver, Colo., Boise, Idaho; and Washington, D.C. He was at Boise for 18 years, the last 12 of which he was the Pacific Northwest Regional Director. He retired in 1998, enjoying three years in his new home in Moab, until he was appointed by president Bush as the National Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation in Washington, D.C., where he served from 2001 to 2006 when he again retired and returned to Moab.
Football officiating was John’s avocation for 40 years. He worked all levels in multiple states including 20 years for the Big Sky Conference. His career highlight was working as referee for the 1998 Division 1 AA National Championship game. Most recently he had been the observer of officials for Northern Arizona University. He was honored to receive the Golden Whistle Award in 2005.
Flying became his passion after completing his training in 1993. He has enjoyed 15 years of private and commercial flying. He especially loved flying the Idaho backcountry and Utah’s canyon country. He was also a volunteer pilot for Angel Flight, Lifeline, Light Hawk, and Grand County Search and Rescue.
Other passions included being a rodeo official, distance running, including several marathons, running whitewater rivers in his raft and kayak, hiking, hunting, and fishing. He helped establish C.A.S.T. (Catch a Special Thrill), which provides fishing opportunities for handicapped kids. He has been a volunteer at Arches National Park and for the Bureau of Land Management and has served on the Grand County Airport Board and the Grand County Water and Sewer Service Agency Board.
Preceding him in death were four grandparents; father, John W. Keys, II,; brother, Frank Keys; daughter, Jennifer Keys Halsey; and son-in-law, David Crawford. Surviving him are his wife of 45 years, Moab Family Physician Dell Keys; daughter, Katherine, and grandson, Casey Crawford (age 9) of Montrose, Colo.; daughter, Robin, son-in-law Mike, and granddaughter, Courtney Fisher (age 2) of Boise, Idaho; son-in-law, Greg, and grandson, Kevin Halsey (age 5) of Billings, Mont.; mother, Alma Keys; nieces, Lisa (Tom) Matthews, and Leslie (David) Cassady and their families of the Tricities area of Alabama, and cousins, Marie Keys of Tennessee and Bill Keys of Idaho.
John was a kind and gentle man and beloved husband, son, father, brother, and friend. He died on a beautiful day, in a beautiful place, doing something he loved to do. The family would like to thank Redtail Aviation, the National Park Service rangers at Needles, and the San Juan County Sheriff’s officers for their help during this difficult time. Thanks also to all the wonderful people of Moab for their unending support.
Funeral arrangements are under the direction of Kimmerle Funeral Home, in Moab, 435-259-8181. A memorial service will be held at the Community Church of Moab at 11 a.m. Friday, June 6. Another service will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday, June 11, at the Cathedral of the Rockies (First United Methodist Church), Boise, Idaho. Another service will be held in the Tricities, Alabama area in July, 2008.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made through any Wells Fargo Bank in the name of John W. Keys, III Benefit Memorial Fund. Distributions will then be made in his name to the Jennifer Keys Halsey Memorial Scholarchip Fund, Angel Flight, C.A.S.T., Compassion International, Grand County Search and Rescue, and the Moab Free Clinic.