Patrick Joseph Key, 67

Patrick Joseph Key, 67

We seven siblings of Patrick Joseph Key, 67, lost our dear brother at Christmastime. He was born July 3, 1954, and died (officially) on December 30, 2021, the day his body was found at rest in his favorite easy chair, his countenance serene, at his home in Minnetonka, Minnesota.

His profound silence, however, began on Christmas Day, when he left a colleague’s text unanswered (a thing he would never do in life) and missed all the holiday cheer going around on the family text thread.

Patrick was the third of the ‘Key Boys’ and No. 3 of the eight of us, born to James G. Key and Lorraine M. (Anderson) Key. Born and raised in Williston, North Dakota, he went on to attend the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks and completed his graduate work at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where he earned a Ph.D. in Anthropology in 1982.

Pat was quiet, funny, patient, and kind. But more than anything else, Pat was brilliant – truly – and his appetite for knowledge was voracious and unrelenting.

Take, for instance, the time he was mired down in his research on the crania of Plains Indians. Facing the daunting task of calculating thousands of exacting skull measurements – craniometrics, in the parlance – and having to do it the old-fashioned way: with paper, pencil, and a calculator, Pat chose a major detour off the slow road. First, he took enough statistics classes to come within a hair’s breadth of earning a master’s degree in stats. Next, he taught himself computer programming. His plan: to figure out how to automate his endless, necessary number crunching, by making the computer do it. And so, he did.

“The human jaw is shrinking,” he once informed a bunch of us. “This has been going on since the introduction of the fork in human civilization.”

Pat was full of fascinating tidbits like that.

Most legendary (yet true) is the story of how Pat knocked out his doctoral dissertation in one month flat, including footnotes, bibliography, everything. He used no outline, had no false starts, made no corrections. He simply sat down at his IBM Selectric, started typing what was in his head about his research, and kept at it until he’d gotten it all down. Whereupon he straightened up his tome of pages and turned it in, lickety split. Deadline met! So… did this dissertation pass muster with Pat’s panel of advisers? Indeed, it did. Helpful, no doubt, was the fact that his lead advisor already regarded Pat as a colleague, more than mere doctoral candidate. Still, so thrilled were Pat’s professors by his work, that they decided – for the first time in the history of the department’s professional journal – to publish a student’s dissertation: Patrick J. Key’s dissertation, his first and final draft.

To this day, Pat’s monograph, Craniometric Relationships among Plains Indians: Cultural- Historical and Evolutionary Implications, stands as the anthropology field’s go-to authority on the Plains Indians, their relationships and evolution. This according to Professor Richard L. Jantz, who led the University of Tennessee panel that awarded Pat’s doctorate.

A full-fledged doctor of anthropology at last, Pat turned right around and started a computer company with one of his brothers. The KEY Company, launched in 1982 and based in Williston, specialized in system “integration.” The brothers wrote code to “integrate” two or more separate, unrelated computer systems, enabling them to work together to solve clients’ needs.

Pat had done a top-notch job of teaching himself to code, and he became quite the integration whiz. Excelling in this niche of the information technology industry would remain Pat’s livelihood for the rest of his life.

Of course, Patrick’s days were not all work and no play. He taught himself guitar (surprised?) and dabbled in songwriting. He enjoyed photography and produced some stellar work, artful and engaging. Rave about one of his photographs in his presence, and chances are you would soon receive a print in the mail, fully matted and framed, with a handwritten citation of the date and place he took the photograph, and his signature P/K.

Pat was a traveler, often literally and always through the books he read. Pat’s passion for books cannot be overstated. He consumed two or three a week, sometimes more, his whole life long. He also collected books: first-edition hardbacks in particular, and all the better if he could get the author to sign them. A grad-school friend with a matching passion told us he and Pat attended some 25 book-signing events together over the years. Who knows how many more Pat sought out on his own? He once met Truman Capote this way. True story.

Another time, he and this book-collecting buddy bought a drink for the author James Crumley, whom they both admired, at a hotel bar in Las Vegas – a moment, Pat later joked, that should be memorialized on his tombstone.

Arriving home, whether from a book fair or publishers’ event, lugging an 80-pound suitcase, or from the local used bookstore, with a bag or a backpack full, Pat would immediately sit down and update his database, carefully cataloguing each new acquisition. A movie buff, he did the same with his vast DVD collection.

When it came to literal travel, Pat was intrepid. He’d book a trip abroad almost every year for his birthday. Sometimes he’d go with a brother or two – or three. More often, he traveled solo.

Here was another manifestation of the man’s lifelong pursuit of knowledge, and the quest took him well off the beaten track in major cities all over the world (the only continent he missed is Antarctica). Rome was his favorite.

Pat ran marathons well into his 50s. And he never tired of rooting for his favorite sports teams, whether on TV or in the stadium. These teams included the University of Tennessee Volunteers football team, the Minnesota Twins and the Vikings, and the UND hockey team, which in Pat’s heart and mind is, was, and always will be the Fighting Sioux.

Patrick is survived by his siblings and their families: Scott and Sivea Key and their son Cam Key and his wife Cammy Swab, all of Ft. Collins, CO; Mike Key and his wife Deanne King and their daughter Rachel, of Little Rock, AR, and Mike’s older children, Jessica Key, of Spokane, WA, and Matthew Key, of Little Rock, AR; Kathleen Key Imes and her husband Andrew Imes, of Williston, ND, and their sons, Daniel Imes, of Bismarck, ND, and James and Karen Imes, of Englewood, CO; L. Sean and Norma Key, of Fargo, ND, and their family, including Sean’s son Graeme Key, of Williston, ND, and Norma’s children, Cameron and Markelle Dockter, and Matthew and Katie Dockter, all of Bismarck, ND, and Kathryn (Dockter) and Brian Glur, of Fridley, MN; Sheila Key and her husband Richard Towne and their children, Maya Key-Towne and her fiancé Phoenix Baldez, and Sayre Key-Towne, all of Albuquerque, NM; Theresa (Key) and Fritz Whisenand, of Whitefish, MT, and their children Andrew Whisenand, of Westminster, CO, and Erin Whisenand and her fiancé Joey Brazzale, of Wheatridge, CO; and Maureen (Key) and Ted Del Duca, of Pueblo, CO, and their daughter Taylor Del Duca, of Ft. Collins, CO. Pat is also survived by his paternal aunt, Delanora (Key) Tkach, of Bismarck, ND; and his longtime special friend Connie Sass, of Minnetonka, MN, and her children Brandon Sass, of Minneapolis, MN, and Kesenja Sass, of Saint Louis Park, MN; as well as by friends and colleagues too numerous to mention.

Preceding Patrick in death are his parents, James G. and Lorraine M. Key; paternal grandparents, Richard and Elizabeth (Zander) Key; and maternal grandparents, Iver and Emma (Kouba) Anderson.

Those wishing to bestow a memorial gift in Pat’s name may be interested to know that he, himself, supported two libraries not far from his Twin Cities-area home. They are Plymouth Public Library, in Plymouth, MN, and Ridgedale Library, with several locations in the metro area.

The Key Family plans to hold a memorial service in honor of Pat’s life and legacy, at a Williston venue, on a date yet to be determined. Huber Funeral Home, of Excelsior, MN, is assisting the family in the Twin Cities, and Everson-Coughlin Funeral Home is assisting in Williston, ND.

We leave you with this opening verse from a song Patrick wrote during his college days.

Please bury me by a river

To have my story sung

Don’t take the time to ask me

Did I die too young?

To plant a tree in memory of Patrick Key as a living tribute, please visit Tribute Store.
Load comments