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'Mayor of Seneca Street' dies at 60 Joey Keane was 'true politician' of the clan

Six years ago, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bishop Henry J. Mansell attended a Labor Day Mass in South Buffalo, where Clinton seemed to be grabbing the most attention.

Joey Keane -- of the prominent South Buffalo Keane clan -- spotted Mansell, who was standing alone, drinking a cup of coffee and perhaps feeling a little ignored by the Clinton spotlight.

"Hello, Bishop, I'm Joey Keane," he said. "If you put that cup of coffee down, I'll take my picture with you."

That was Joey Keane, one of the best known of the famous Keanes, a man intimidated by no one, a South Buffalo man who always had a hug or a quip for everyone -- whether it was the governor, the bishop or just a man or woman on the street.

Dubbed the "mayor of Seneca Street," Keane died Friday in the Mercy Hospital Skilled Nursing Facility, following an almost two-year battle with Alzheimer's and its complications. He was 60.

When he was born, in February 1947, family members were told that infants with Down syndrome had a life expectancy of about 21 years. Usually, they were taken to an institution for the rest of their lives.

His mother, Catherine, would hear none of that. So he spent the first 30 years of his life with his parents, Richard and Catherine, the next 30 rotating among about a dozen siblings and nieces, each for about three months at a time.

Among his 14 surviving siblings are a former Buffalo fire commissioner, a former assemblyman and a former deputy county executive. But everyone acknowledged who the true politician was in the family:

Joseph Jeremiah Keane.

"He worked a crowd better than any of his politician brothers," said niece Kate Carr, one of 183 nieces, nephews and their children who called him "Uncle Joey."

"His whole life, he was a cause celebre along Seneca Street," said brother James P. Keane, the former Common Council member and deputy county executive. "People just took to him."

Here's a testament to his popularity in South Buffalo. Ten years ago, following a newspaper story about his gala 50th birthday party, a childhood friend living in Australia sent him a letter addressed to "Joseph Keane, Somewhere in South Buffalo, Buffalo, N.Y."

The letter reached him.

Within his family, Joey Keane was the peacemaker of the 16 siblings. When they fought as kids, there was Joey in the middle of things, settling everybody down and leaving the participants to walk away with hugs and handshakes.

"He was kind of the glue that kept us together," said brother Cornelius J. "Neil" Keane, the former fire commissioner.

Since his death, South Buffalo has been filled with dozens of Joey Keane stories. Here are a few of them:

*Years ago, Joey Keane had just moved from the roomy Orchard Park home of a niece, Pat Allman, to the more modest South Buffalo home of his sister Maureen Sullivan.

"Cup of coffee, Joe?" his sister asked him the first morning.

"What, no cappuccino?" Joey replied.

"You're back in South Buffalo, buddy," his sister answered.

Following The Buffalo News story 10 years ago, then-Mayor Anthony M. Masiello bought Joey Keane a cappuccino maker for his 50th birthday.

*Sometime after his father's death, one sibling kidded that their mother could marry widowed Gov. Hugh L. Carey, who had 14 children. Together, they'd have more than two dozen.

Joey Keane apparently remembered that comment when he saw Carey at some South Buffalo function.

"Stay away from my mother," he told Carey, according to another brother, former Assemblyman Richard J. Keane.

Among other things, Joey Keane loved watching soap operas; impersonating everyone from John Wayne to Tom Jones; dressing up in Sabres, Bills or Bisons garb, while watching or listening to their games; dancing at weddings, often trying to snag the first dance with the new bride; needling his "big shot" brothers; watching the old Lawrence Welk TV show; and catching the garter belt at any wedding.

Surviving are seven sisters, Nancy Lafferty, Mary Alice O'Neil, Sally Trevean, Catherine Keane, Connie Smith, Margaret Ray and Maureen Sullivan; seven brothers, Richard J., Thomas J., Michael A., Cornelius J., Daniel J., James P. and Peter C. Another brother, Firefighter William T. Keane, was killed in 1978 while responding to a false alarm.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in St. Teresa Catholic Church, 1974 Seneca St., after prayers at 9 in Thomas H. McCarthy Funeral Home, 1975 Seneca St.

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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