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John Kiley, 1950-2009 PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - In Memorium
Written by Todd McGreevy   
Thursday, 19 February 2009 00:11

The Quad Cities' lost a treasure on February 15, 2009 when community leader John Kiley died at the age of 58 years young.

On Wednesday February 18, his great friend Randy Richards soothed the full house at Sacred Heart Cathedral with an insightful eulogy -- seasoned appropriately with song lyrics from the soundtrack of Kiley's life.  Kiley touched too many souls to count in his career as a social activist, culture and music fan, marathon runner, United Way leader, teacher and most recently development director at the Catholic dioceses.  Richards deftly summarized the challenge with reconciling all that Kiley accomplished in his life, explaining that in his estimation, Kiley had to really be 108 years old to have achieved so much and touched so many people. He had in fact been lying to us about his age.

Especially poignant was Richards' call to prize and praise Kiley's life as well lived.
"Praised for his courage. For when courage goes, honesty is the next casualty and soon after we witness the death of integrity."

Our world needs more Kileys with his courage and integrity.  May we all recall Kiley's smile, laughter, words and deeds often in our own efforts to do what Kiley did every day -- make our community and world a better place to live.

Another of John's great friends, Victoria Navarro, shared her poem about John. It too elicited both tears and laughter and was equally as insightful about John Kiley and all the roles he played in our lives.

Richards' eulogy and Victoria's poem are both reprinted below, in their entirety, with the authors' permission.
In addition, Linda Cook authored a fine memorial to John Kiley, in her piece in the QCTimes.
Photos may be submitted for the gallery to the right by emailing This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Kiley’s Eulogy

by Randy Richards - Feb 17, 2009

We’ve been through some things together 
With trunks of memories still to come. 
We found things to do in stormy weather 
Long may we run.

Although these changes have come. 
With our chrome hearts shining in the sun 
Long may we run. 

Kathy asked me to say a few words about Kiley. I will do my best. I feel this to be a great honor and heavy burden at the same time. I will try not to disappoint any of you, his family and friends who have gathered here. So many of you are no doubt more eloquent than I and have such great Kiley stories to tell. I suspect some of those stories might even be true. I will begin with a true story.

I came upon a child of god 
He was walking along the road 
And I asked him, where are you going 
And this he told me 
Im going on down to yasgurs farm 
Im going to join in a rock n roll band 
Im going to camp out on the land 
Im going to try an get my soul free 
We are stardust 
We are golden 
And we’ve got to get ourselves 
Back to the garden

In August 1969, a young John Kiley made his way to Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York to join 500,000 other people for a four day festival of peace, love, magical herbs and music at Woodstock, New York. Of those 500,000 people at Woodstock, Kiley was the only one, the only one  . . . who made a hotel reservation. So with apologies to Jonie Mitchell, there was not going to be any camping out on the land.

That was quintessential Kiley. He was at once intellectually, musically, artistically and socially avant garde and at the same time utterly pragmatic and deeply imbedded in the middle of common sense. Some might see this as a contradiction. It’s not. Rather it is a kind of balance arising from a deep sense of who he was. John’s lived a complex and rich life where he tried to balance all of the elements of a full life. We must resist the temptation to see John’s life from a single perspective, to create a cartoon version.

Kathy makes exquisite creations with oil and brush, copperplates and massive presses and sometimes flour, yeast and water. John fashioned his life as art. But the art of living well is more ethereal than graphic creations which we can always return to see – the art of living is more like music. It is experienced immediately in the moment and then it is gone.  John created a bio-symphonic achievement – multiple themes, interwoven across several movements – moderato, presto, adagio, allegro and vivace. He made it look easy. I know it was not. I marvel at how he did it. It makes me laugh in amazement.

As you brush your shoes 
And stand before the mirror 
And you comb your hair 
And grab your coat and hat 
And you walk, wet streets 
Tryin to remember 
All the wild breezes 
In your memory ever. 
And everything looks so complete 
When you’re walkin out on the street 
And the wind catches your feet 
And sends you flyin, cryin 
The wild night is calling.

I have listened to so many stories from so many of you about all of the times you spent with Kiley and all of things he did with all of you: runners, film aficionados, artists, social activists, impresarios, clerics, rock and roll musicians, bar flies, community organizers, lawyers, captains of industry, academics, not-for-profit service providers, labor organizers, venture capitalists, food pantry operators, real estate agents, politicians, tennis players, bikers, dancers, thespians, gardeners, hibatchi enthusiasts, farmers, beer brewers, beer drinkers, vinophiles, judges, rabbit breeders, racquetball players, walnut tree growers, fishermen, golf hackers, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, librarians, pool hustlers and Irish dancers. Have I left anybody out?

In thinking this over, there is only one conclusion I can draw. Kiley was a liar. He lied about his age. There is no way that he could have done all of the things with all of us in a mere 58 years. It simply cannot be done. I have done a rough back of the envelop calculation and have estimated that his real age must have been closer to 108.

May your hands always be busy 
May your feet always be swift 
May you have a strong foundation 
When the winds of changes shift 
May your heart always be joyful 
And may your song always be sung 
May you stay forever young 
Forever young, forever young 
May you stay forever young.

And despite John’s 108 years, he was forever young. He never lost his youthful exuberance for the abundant flow of new things. While most of John’s contemporaries have devolved into geezer talk, “well when we were growing up, blah, blah, blah, blah., or kids today are blah, blah, blah.”, John was asking if you had heard the new CD from the Flaming Vomit. He rarely let himself be frozen in time. Life is flow and when we tried to stem that flow it wears us out. Let life like water seek the proper level and you are energized not exhausted. In the words of Tao De Ching

In conflict, be fair and generous. 
In governing, don't try to control. 
In work, do what you enjoy. 
In family life, be completely present.

What a magnificent life! What a ride Kiley has taken all of us on with him. What stories we can tell of him! What lessons we have learned from him. It is the kind of life I describe to my students as a “life well lived”. A life to be both prized and praised.

A life to be prized:

Prized for his good fortune along with his sister Kathy to have been born to Lil and Robert Kiley. The cosmic dice rolled out a seven for him. He drew the ten for the inside straight. I did not know his dad, but I knew Lil. If you knew Lil understanding John is easier.

Prized for his wonderful wife Kathy. A brilliant star in her own constellation and the first two syllabus of a single word KathyandJohn. Kathy meticulously seeking artistic perfection even down to a single haired brush stroke.  But like John, to see her from this single perspective is to miss her own particular mastery of the complexities of life. By the way, speaking of masteries, I hope we keep getting asked over to dinner.

Prized for his Joanna and Julia, daughters close to the tree but not in its shade. Two reflections not reproductions. Rock and roll energy and classical elegance. They make me laugh too.

Prized for his Elliott and Iris who knew their grandfather too briefly. But everyone in this room promises to tell you stories so you will never forget that Cosmos rolled out a seven for you too.

Prized for being part of the Ambrose mafia. Mentored by Geiger and DeJohn. Dawson and Kennedy. McMann, Norton and McCaffrey. Many in this room and the ghosts among us walked under those oaks. John is understandable in part because he walked there as well. He had returned to the sacred oaks recently to share his leadership insights with the kids that come after us who will stand on his shoulders.

Prized for finding work he loved or transforming work he did not love into something he could love.

Prized for the all of his friends, an ocean of friends and embarrassment of riches of love. Last night at visitation there were people who had gone to kindergarten with John and people who had met him two days ago. We all waited patiently to honor him as he always found time to wait for us.

And a life to be praised:

Praised for how he used his gifts and good fortune to benefit others.

Praised for a compassion informed and guided by intelligence. For compassion without intelligence is soggy sentimentalism and ineffectual good intention. And intelligence exercised without compassion can be ruthlessly over rational.

Praised for his courage. For when courage goes, honesty is the next casualty and soon after we witness the death of integrity.

For all of this we are grateful and joyous and we try not to be sad. But still we are in grief

Everytime I see your face 
It reminds me of the places  
We used to go, 
But all I've got is a photograph, 
And I realize you're not coming back anymore.

Let us hold them both, the joy and grief. In proper measure as the times demand. For true the taste of our impermanent life is bitter sweet. 

The family has asked me to invite all of you to the Kahl Ballroom for a food and music and conversation. Now I know if many of you are like me, you are thinking about the unanswered emails or the phone calls or the reports. But

Oh won’t you stay 
One more day with your own ones 
Don’t rush away 
Rush away from your own ones 
This old world is so cold, 
Don’t care nothing for your soul 
You share with your own ones

Thanks Kiley, hope you liked it

Something About John

by Victoria Navarro - Feb 17, 2009

I want to say something about John

I want to say something that won’t make people sadder

Because that is what John would have done.

I want to say something thoughtful

because that’s what John was…thoughtful and selfless.

I want to say something that will help us mend,

because that’s what John was…a mender.

I want to say something clever and pithy to make us smile or even laugh out loud

because that’s what John was…witty.

I want to say something so profound that it will give us pause for days to come

because that’s what John was… a thinker and a teacher.

I want to say something to give us comfort now and in the future

because that’s what John was… a caretaker.

I want to embrace you all and share life’s energy,

because that’s what John was…a true friend.

I want to hug my family, especially my granddaughter,

because that’s what John was…a family man.

I want to be patient and loving with my husband,

because that’s what John was…a devoted, adoring spouse.

I want to go dancing with reckless abandon and listen to the Clash and ride home in my convertible, because that’s what John was…fun and energetic.

I want to plan trips that I can’t afford,

go to rock concerts, even when I’ve been told they are sold out and tickets are impossible to get,

I want to learn new languages,

have new experiences that people say I am too old to have,

I want to make my community better,

Make things happen!

because that’s what John was…a dreamer.

I know we all knew John in different ways,

But the soul, the core of the man, if you will,

was always the same…

pure and good.

Thank you

for letting me say something about John.


Victoria Navarro


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