The career of a recently deceased Gainesville man who had a hand in the U.S. space program’s race to the moon is recalled fondly by his wife.
Lawrence O’Keefe, who died April 6 at age 73, was an engineer who worked as part of the team that designed the lunar landing modules for the Apollo program.
“He worked for Grumman on Long Island (New York) and was part of the ... lunar module component of the first space landing,” said his wife, Helen O’Keefe.
Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp., now known as Northrop Grumman, was the company that designed the landing modules for NASA.
The U.S. reached the moon with the Apollo 11 lunar landing in July 1969. “He was on that design team and test team at White Sands in New Mexico,” Helen O’Keefe said. “We lived in Las Cruces for three years while he worked at the test site. It was just a very, very exciting and interesting time.”
Helen O’Keefe said her husband kept a special memento of his time with the Apollo program in their home. “He has one of the huge Apollo pictures that has everybody, astronauts and everybody who worked on the program signed, and he signed. There’s a copy of that on the moon and a copy of that on our wall,” she said.
O’Keefe said after the Apollo missions, her husband kept an interest in flight and became an instrument-rated private pilot. “He had 2,600 hours of flying, which is an enormous amount of flight and instrument time for a nonairline pilot,” O’Keefe said.
He also loved automobiles. “We never had a car repaired. He could repair anything. He was extremely talented mechanically,” O’Keefe said.
The O’Keefes moved to Gainesville in 1990 when Helen O’Keefe was hired to work in Gainesville City Schools. She served as principal of Gainesville Middle and Fair Street Elementary schools before her retirement.
Lawrence O’Keefe founded his own engineering business, Applied Engineering Concepts. “He did thermal and nuclear analysis for companies like Kimberly-Clark and all kinds of interesting things,” Helen O’Keefe said.
A memorial service for Lawrence O’Keefe was held Saturday in Adairsville at Barnsley Gardens.
“He’s just an extremely brilliant man and very eclectic with lots of interests,” Helen O’Keefe said. “He’s been the love of my life, and he’s a fabulous man.”