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(Note: Excerpts of this profile are taken from an interview with Dr. Keighton in 2010.)
Dr. Robert Keighton was a welcomed fixture at Curry College for decades. The Politics and History professor was not only an expert in American history, government, and politics during his long and distinguished tenure; he also lived through much of what he taught.
During his time at Curry, he saw the good (the Moon landing, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the country’s first African American President), the bad (the Vietnam War, the Space Shuttle tragedies and 9/11); and the ugly (Watergate, the Iran-Contra Scandal and the financial meltdown of 2008).
He had conversations with five different presidents (Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford) and one well-known Speaker of the House from Massachusetts and Curry College honorary degree recipient, Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neil.
And through the years, Dr. Keighton made it his mission to communicate those firsthand experiences to his students.
“I have always believed in encouraging my students to think freely and to face controversy head-on,” he explained. “It is a two-way street in my classes; not only do they learn from me, but I learn from them as well.”
The lifelong educator began his teaching career in the early 1960’s at a small college in Texas, where segregation was part of the social and political landscape. It was this climate of inequity that inspired his signature teaching style, which was to challenge his students to think independently. Again and again, he would intentionally rock the boat in his classroom by touting the benefits of integration.
After three years in Texas, Keighton decided to head north, and after a brief stop at another local Massachusetts college, he made Curry College his permanent home in 1966.
Keighton, whose office was housed in the same Faculty Building for over 50 years, thoroughly enjoyed watching the Curry campus grow around him.
“Curry was a lot smaller back then, it was a different place. It has grown leaps and bounds since then. And with the expansion of our campus and student base under President [Kenneth K.] Quigley [Jr.], it has taken our school to a new level of excellence.”
But Dr. Keighton’s real passion was his experience in the classroom.
“I love to watch my students evolve, to think about history and political issues in new and unique ways. And when you see it in their eyes, the moment when that proverbial light bulb goes on, it’s absolutely priceless.”
He also noticed a positive shift in the priorities of his students over the years.
“I find that with the exception of the Vietnam Era, my students are more interested in politics and more socially aware than ever before. They are moving away from a culture of ‘How much money can I make?’ to a culture of grass roots organization and volunteerism, much like it was in the 1960’s.”
Keighton, a social activist himself, also liked to write, compose music and paint.
His publications include One Nation (co-written by Martin P. Sutton) - an introductory textbook on American government; Betrayal (co-written by Harvey Robbins and Dave Cowens) - about the battle to save historic Prowse Farm in Milton, Massachusetts; and If You Elect Me President (co-written by Harvey Robbins) - a diary of the 1988 Presidential Election.
“I love to write,” he beamed. “Although it is very time consuming and takes a lot of effort, it is such an interesting process.”
He also helped establish ‘The Keighton Fund at Curry College,’ which brought music and culture to campus every semester. The sponsored events featured classical music performances which were open to the public, some of the pieces composed by Keighton himself.
He was also a published artist to boot. The Paintings of Robert Keighton: Landscape Paintings from 1995 to 2008 is a collection of his oil on canvas paintings from both the Medfield Marshes in Old Lyme, Connecticut, and the Isle of Shoals off of the coast of New Hampshire.
“I didn’t get into painting until I was 50 years old,” he remembered. “I started by taking a few art classes in nearby Brockton and it just snowballed from there. My grandmother, mother and sister all loved to paint, so I guess it must be in my genes.”
Even into his 90’s, Dr. Keighton was somewhat of an unofficial mascot of Curry College, where he could be seen walking around campus every day, always with a big smile, chatting with students, faculty and staff.
When asked about his legacy, he simply had this to say, “I hope when it’s all said and done, they say that I was a good teacher.”
The entire Curry community is thankful for the years of wisdom Dr. K dedicated to our students and our College. He will be missed.