Tom Keith, RIP

I wouldn’t have known that Tom Keith had died if I hadn’t gotten the email from Scott Horsley. Scott, who now covers Barack Obama for NPR, used to work with me at KPBS. I hear from him, now and then, when he sees something that he knows relates to my past.

He may call me from the press bus while traveling though Iowa when he can catch a glimpse of my home town, Grinnell, or the Barilla plant outside of Ames. Obama goes to Iowa when he starts thinking about elections. But I digress.

Tom Keith

I knew Tom Keith, though not well, when I worked at Minnesota Public Radio in the early ’90s. He performed with Garrison Keillor on Keillor’s old morning radio show and later on a Prairie Home Companion Show.

Tom created a radio persona named Jim Ed Poole, and most MPR listeners knew him by that name. I once worked at WCCO, the CBS affiliate in Minneapolis, where one of the radio personalities was “Dark Star.” Around the station we called him by his first name, Dark. I’m not kidding.

Tom Keith was one of those guys who was well-known in public radio circles. He was best know for being the original sound-effects guy for Prairie Home.

The thing I remember about Tom was a story told to me by a fellow MPR employee who played with Tom on the company softball team. Tom Keith was not physically imposing in any way. He was bald and of average height. But he was an outstanding athlete who had played on the varsity baseball team at the University of Minnesota.

The guy on the MPR softball team played first base, one season, when Tom played shortstop (or maybe third base… this was a long time ago). When Tom would field the ball and throw out the runner at first, he would throw so hard the ball seemed to ascend as it flew threw the air.

Tom Keith soon retired from softball and left it to the duffers. He died at the age of 64. Interesting what you learn about people. Jim Ed Poole, rest in peace.

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