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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Clark: Tom Keefe’s St. Patrick’s obsession leads him back to Seattle

(First in a two-part oddball odyssey.)

For the record, kids, if a grown man in a pope’s costume offers you a ride in his car do not walk away – RUN LIKE HELL!

I am hardly a kid, however. Plus Tom Keefe is harmless, mostly.

So I accepted his offer to join him on a road trip to Seattle where the Spokane attorney will pose as St. Patrick for the city’s Irish Week festivities.

Being an itinerate St. Patrick impersonator is one of the planet’s weirdest avocations, right up there with spider wrangler.

And to think there was a time when I was worried that Spokane was running out of zanies.

Anyway, like everything the 68-year-old does, Keefe’s St. Patrick persona is growing larger beyond belief.

Take the society Keefe formed to honor the long-forgotten 3-foot-7 actor who once went to bat as a major leaguer for the St. Louis Browns.

That led Keefe to a baseball fan of the year award and a pre-game appearance with the St. Louis Cardinals organization for a special Eddie Gaedel appreciation night, with bobble head giveaways, to boot.

But this St. Patrick obsession?

Blame Tim O’Doherty, owner of Spokane’s O’Doherty’s Pub & Irish Grille, which is also the home of the Eddie Gaedel Society, Chapter 1.

So when the pub owner and his wife, Sam, asked Keefe to help jazz up the St. Patrick’s Day rush by appearing as blessed saint himself, what could he do?

“Never disappoint the man who mixes your dinks,” observed Keefe.

The O’Dohertys didn’t pick Keefe at random.

Keefe fit the bill because: 1. He’s more Irish than Darby O’Gill’s banshee. 2. He had just grown a full white beard. 3. He’s definitely a ham.

That bushy beard even had an Irish-based purpose as well, explained Keefe. He swears he grew it out to look the part of an old Irish grandfather when he was photographed holding his first grandson.

The kid’s name?

Why, Patrick, of course.

You’re sensing a theme here, aren’t you?

Keefe set about his mission with the fervor of a serious Elvis impersonator. Oops, I mean “tribute artist.” These impersonators get really touchy when you minimize what they do.

“I didn’t want to be a party clown,” huffed Keefe, who set about scouring the internet for popish duds. Sorry again. Vestments, I mean.

Keefe bought some absolutely authentic green garb that had been embroidered with a depiction of Jesus and some lambs. He topped his “look” with a custom made mitre (hat) and a serious crozier (staff).

Add a pair of green leprechaun socks, for fun.

“A cosmic junkyard,” he said of the popular website eBay.

Keefe considers his St. Patrick role as both jovial and serious. “He was a human rights crusader” who spoke out against slavery, he said. “This was a chance for me to educate people and make my grandmother proud.”

Keefe’s late-grandmother, he said, was always sad on St. Patrick’s Day because it reminded her of the Ireland she had left behind for America.

Keefe’s first grand appearance took place in 2013. He also wore the outfit on a vacation to Ireland where he enthralled a busload of school children and climbed an 8th century tower in Clondalkin that was built to ward off a Viking invasion.

“People about drove off the road,” he said.

My favorite photograph from the trip shows Keefe as Paddy standing in front of a sign for the “St. Patrick Mental Health Services.”

“Thank goodness there’s a place for people like me,” he said.

Some Irish citizens suggested that he “give up the idea of being Tom Keefe and take up the new identity of St. Patrick.”

I will not discount this possibility.

Last year, Keefe was honored as Irishman of the Year in Spokane’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.

And now Keefe has made the official poster of Seattle’s big Irish festival.

Why Seattle?

As it turns out, there’s a logical foundation to this.

Back in the early 1980s, Keefe was the legal counsel for Charles Royer, the Mayor of Seattle. As such, he was instrumental in wangling a junket to Ireland where he helped convince Galway to become Seattle’s Irish sister city.

Ah, the perks of government work.

As you might imagine, Keefe still has plenty of cronies on the West Side. When they found out about his alter ego the invitations came.

Keefe as Patrick is to ride in the parade, help paint a green stripe down Fourth Avenue and meet with Galway’s current mayor.

I’m told there will also be a reenactment of St. Patrick’s historic capture by pirates.

What could possibly go wrong?

I plan to chronicle this and perform my duty as a Spokanite to poke fun at Washington’s largest and most self-obsessed burg.

Quite frankly, if I don’t get mugged or wind up sharing a straightjacket with Keefe, I’ll consider the entire trip a success.