Photo by Brent Fuchs.
Photo by Brent Fuchs.

[dropcap]Although[/dropcap] former Gov. and first lady Frank and Cathy Keating moved to the nation’s capital following the inauguration of former Gov. Brad Henry in 2003, in some ways they never really left Oklahoma.

“I know we’ve been away, but it never seems like we’ve been,” Mrs. Keating says. “Our home has never been further than our hearts, and our hearts are in Oklahoma.”

Now, the Keatings are set to return to their home state after 13 productive years in Washington. During their time in the nation’s capital, Gov. Keating spent eight years with the American Council of Life Insurers as president and CEO of the lobbying and trade group. After his term at ACLI ended, the couple considered moving back to Oklahoma but decided to stay in Washington a bit longer. Gov. Keating went on to serve as president and CEO of the American Bankers Association, another trade and lobbying organization in Washington.

During their time in Washington, the couple was very active in the capital’s community, at one point drawing from their first-hand experience with disaster as governor and first lady during the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing to co-chair a $15 million national campaign to make the city prepared for disaster.

Despite an active life in the District community, the former first couple never forgot their home state.

“We stayed involved in the Oklahoma community because it is home,” Mrs. Keating says. The former first lady in particular returned stateside on a regular basis. Over the years, she continued to serve on the board of directors for Express Employment Professionals, an Oklahoma-based staffing company. (Although no longer employed by the company, she continues to chair its nation-wide charitable giving operations.) She also spent much of her time over the past several years traveling frequently to Oklahoma to care for her mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

In addition, both Keatings remained involved with the Salvation Army in Oklahoma City and with the Red Cross in both Oklahoma City and Washington. This latter organization was especially important to the couple, according to Mrs. Keating, because “they were so critical to helping Oklahomans get back on their feet after the bombing.”

“We’re not doing the heavy lifting on projects, but have been back and forth for several events to support our friends and organizations in Tulsa and Oklahoma City that have made such a difference in people’s lives,” Mrs. Keating explains.

Although both husband and wife grew up in Tulsa and visit family and friends there frequently, they plan to make Oklahoma City their permanent home. Now that the couple will be back in Oklahoma full time, there’s a lot they are looking forward to. Much of that appeal lies in their fond memories of a simpler way of life.

“I love the easy commutes, the clear skies, the friendliness and the thunder,” Gov. Keating says, not specifying if he is referring to the sound of Oklahoma storms or the professional basketball team that arrived during his hiatus in Washington. “It’s an easy decision to come back. I went to college, worked as an FBI agent and for Presidents Reagan and Bush and for the insurance and banking industries in Washington. But at one point in your life, you want to go home. I want to see my children and grandchildren. Oklahoma just has a natural flow for us.”[pullquote]“The Annie Oakley Society recognizes significant leadership roles women have played in settling the West and our country,” she says. “It’s important that those women are recognized.”[/pullquote]

Mrs. Keating agrees. “I look forward to an easier way of life. Life is just easier in Oklahoma. It’s easier to go to the grocery store, where there’s not as long a line. The sensibility is easier, the city is more affordable, the traffic is better. In Washington, I have to plan an hour in advance to meet Frank downtown for dinner! We finally get to go to Oklahoma City Thunder games and other sports events. And OKC and Tulsa have become big hubs for entertainment – some of the most famous entertainment is coming there. That will be fun. It’s coming home to life as it always has been, with a modern twist.

“We always missed our families,” she continues. “Most of our family members live in Oklahoma. Secondly, we missed our friends. Third – it’s just the air we breathe. You know, there’s just something special about Oklahoma. You wake up and it’s friendly, warm and welcoming. It’s easy to live in a big city. It’s affordable. You walk down the street and actually meet people you know.”

“I look forward to being able to ride in car pools,” Gov. Keating laughs. “To a life that’s endearing and fun. Watching my grandkids’ sports, plays and dance competitions. Cathy is the best grandma! I have written four children’s books and am working on a fifth. It’s fun to come home, and there’s no better family-friendly community than Oklahoma City.”

Both are excited to be returning to a city that, after several MAPS initiatives, Project 180 and the arrival of professional basketball, is all at once comfortably familiar and excitingly new.

“We arrived at the Governor’s Mansion in Oklahoma City in January 1995,” Mrs. Keating remembers. “MAPS 1 was a little over a year old – nothing had started yet. The bombing could have paralyzed the city longer than it did. We might not ever have gotten off our knees, but business leaders coalesced and swore not to be defeated. So now we’ve watched Oklahoma City evolve, and it’s so exciting. Both OKC and Tulsa pop up on everyone’s top 10 lists: most desirable, most affordable, best family places to live, best cultural cities … it’s amazing. And our best friends in the world are in Oklahoma City.”

Mrs. Keating plans to continue her work as chair of EEP’s philanthropic division as well as with the Annie Oakley Society at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

“The Annie Oakley Society recognizes significant leadership roles women have played in settling the West and our country,” she says. “It’s important that those women are recognized.”

Drawing upon his past experience in housing and urban development, Gov. Keating recently accepted a position on the executive committee of the Terwilliger Foundation, which is working to develop new federal housing policies. In addition, he will serve as a senior partner at Holland and Knight, an international law firm with offices across the United States, Mexico and Colombia.

“It’s going to be fun,” he says. “I’ll be flying around, but I’ll have my days in Oklahoma City. Most important of all, I’ll get to spend time with our kids and grandkids.”

He recognizes that, having been away for more than a decade, some things will be different.

“I’m coming home with less hair, and more of it’s gray,” he jokes.

But some things never change, according to Mrs. Keating.

“Since we were both 16 years old, both of our driver’s licenses have said ‘Oklahoma,’” she says.

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