John Jack Keegel, a longtime D.C. resident and professor of mathematics at the University of the District of Columbia for nearly 35 years, died of cancer May 11 at his home in Boynton Beach, Fla. He was 68.
With a specialty in statistics and statistical analysis, Keegel played a lead role for more than 20 years in designing and directing an annual, federally mandated study of seatbelt usage by drivers in the District of Columbia.
The D.C. Department of Transportation retained Keegel to organize the study with the help of student interns at UDC and others, who methodically observed whether drivers traveling along various D.C. streets wore their seatbelts. Although he retired as a professor in 2004, he continued to conduct the seatbelt study through 2009, when his findings showed a 93 percent seatbelt usage by D.C. drivers, according to UDC Professor Eugene Shiro, who assisted Keegel in the study.
Keegel’s friends said they and his UDC colleagues became inspired and moved in 1995 over Keegel’s devotion to his domestic partner of 24 years, Edward Levine, who was hospitalized in critical condition while awaiting a heart transplant. They said Keegel juggled his teaching schedule to make time each day to drive from the District to Fairfax Hospital, where he spent part of the day with Levine for nearly two months before Levine died while waiting for a replacement heart that never arrived.
During Levine’s hospital stay, he and Keegel agreed to become the subject of a feature story in the Washington Blade, becoming the first known same-sex couple to publicly share their experiences in grappling with the uncertainty of a hoped for heart transplant.
Keegel was born in Jersey City, N.J. and was raised in Rahway, N.J. He received a bachelor’s degree in 1963 from Rutgers University and his master’s degree in 1966 from the University of Delaware, both in mathematics. He received a doctorate degree in statistics in 1975 from George Washington University.
Keegel served as a statistician with the National Institutes of Health from 1966 to 1969 and worked as a statistical consultant to a contracting company providing services to the U.S. Postal Service from 1968 to 1969. He began his tenure as a mathematics professor at UDC in 1969.
While at UDC, he worked as a statistical consultant during the summer months for a number of outside consulting firms. In the summer of 1979 he served as a lecturer at the NATO Advanced Statistics Institute in Urbino, Italy. Keegel also is the author or co-author of at least nine books or book chapters on statistics and statistical analysis.
Upon his retirement, he retained his home in D.C. while spending winters in Boynton Beach, Fla.
Keegel was preceeded in death by Levine, his domestic partner of 24 years. Survivors include a former domestic partner, Brian Lee; his father, John Keegel; a stepmother, Margo Keegel; several cousins; and many longtime friends in Florida and D.C.
Plans to celebrate Keegel’s life in Florida and D.C. are pending.