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Ciolli: Farewell to Bob Keeler, a Newsday legend

Bob Keeler has been a Suffolk County reporter,

Bob Keeler has been a Suffolk County reporter, Albany bureau chief, Sunday magazine editor, and editorial board member during nearly 42 years at Newsday. (April 11, 2012) Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

It was 41 years, 7 months and 26 days ago when Bob Keeler entered Newsday’s Ronkonkoma office, a ramshackle backwater that reporters, their sources and even a few ex-cons who wanted to settle scores entered through a backdoor off a parking lot. It was also a place that forged (that’s the only word to use when investigations czar Bob Greene was your editor) some of the nation’s best journalists.

After four decades, Keeler leaves the newspaper as one of its legends.

Bob labored at many tasks here, surviving plenty of editors who threatened, and sometimes actually managed, to change his prose. Yet he usually prevailed, thanks to the thoroughness of his reporting and the strength of his ideas.

In between, he literally wrote the book on Newsday: “A Candid History of the Respectable Tabloid” which he lovingly referred to as a “worst seller” but which many of us here have asked him to autograph.

It's journalistic shorthand to note that Bob is the real deal by pointing to the Pulitzer Prize he won in 1996 for his remarkable effort to capture the spiritual life of the parishioners of St. Brigid's Roman Catholic Church in Westbury. It was great journalism. But those in the business and those he covered will remember him for his relentless reporting, whether it was a year-long series or just a short news item.

Bob might be best recalled as a passionate champion of social justice, especially in his weekly columns for the opinion section.

His last column, printed on Dec. 21, 2012, his final day on staff, highlighted the need to stay focused on veterans. He advocated for good stewardship of the environment, fairness and generosity for those with the least and the importance of respecting and embracing all people and all religions.

As one of his fans emailed us this morning, "his columns over the years have been catalysts for expanding civic engagement among scores of people....Bob regularly elevated discourse on Long Island."

A big Mets fan and an even bigger Yankee hater, Bob was never shy about expressing his views in print, and to your face. You always knew where he stood. And many of us here can proudly say, we were happy to stand with him.

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