Peter Macfarlane Keir died Monday, June 17 at his home in the Hollin Hills community of Fairfax County, Virginia. Just prior to his death, at least sixty friends and family members celebrated his 100th birthday at his home. Family members traveled from as far away as Beirut, Lebanon and Shenzhen, China, while several family friends came from California and Massachusetts to join the centennial celebration.
Peter Keir was an athlete and a scholar, an intellectual and a “regular guy,” a man whose warmth, grace, compassion and sense of humor were valued by multiple generations of family, friends and colleagues. On the occasion of his retirement from the staff of the Federal Reserve System’s Board of Governors, then Chairman Paul A. Volcker wrote in a personal letter he addressed simply to “Pete,” noting their long association, that “expertise, common sense, and a warm personality don’t always go together, but when it does, we all know it!” Indicative of Mr. Keir’s humble nature is the fact that this unique accolade was not framed and displayed at his home but instead tucked away safely in the pocket of a folder in the bottom drawer of a file cabinet.
Mr. Keir began working at the Federal Reserve in 1953 in the Division of Research and Statistics and spent the last five and a half years (1976-1981) as Special Assistant to the Board in the Office of the Staff Director for Monetary Policy. In 1972, he circumnavigated the globe on a month-long trip to consult with other central bank officials in Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, India, Pakistan, Lebanon, Italy and England. In 1979, when farmers concerned about high interest rates and loan foreclosures brought their “Tractorcade” protest to Washington, Mr. Keir was among a small group of senior Fed officials tapped to meet with the protestors in an effort to explain the nuances of the agency’s interest rate policies. After retiring fully from “the Board” in 1981, he worked for another eight years as an economic and monetary policy analyst for the American Council of Life Insurance in Washington, D.C.
Born on June 13, 1919, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to (Robert) Malcolm Keir and (Emily) Cecile Hanna, Mr. Keir and his older sister (Cynthia) Jean grew up in Hanover, New Hampshire, where Malcolm was a professor of economics at Dartmouth College and Cecile was active in politics as the President of the New Hampshire League of Women Voters and was a regional director of the Girl Scouts of America. Mr. Keir was a 1937 high school graduate of the Northwood School in Lake Placid, New York. He went on to attend Dartmouth College, graduating in 1941, where he was the head of Palaeopitus, then the student governing body, played varsity hockey, graduated magna cum laude as a Senior Fellow, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and was awarded the Barrett Cup for all-around achievement by a member of the senior class, an award based on “strength of character and qualities of leadership, record of scholarship and broad achievement, and influence among his fellows.”
In May 1941, Mr. Keir was selected to speak at Dartmouth’s commencement. With the world in the throes of a deepening conflict and having been taught by professors that included the generation that fought “The Great War,” he observed with sadness that “The same men who taught us that war is bad now tell us that we must go and fight one.” Mr. Keir did not shrink from that responsibility, however, as he had already completed officer training while enrolled at Dartmouth and was active as a student speaker for the pro-intervention Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies. He was commissioned as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy and was assigned to work in photographic intelligence, spending time in both the European and Pacific theaters during the war, including postings in London and on Adak Island in the Aleutian chain. His work included photographic analysis for pre-mission targeting and post-mission bomb damage assessment. As a result, he was among the first Americans to go to Japan following the war in order to determine through on-site investigation the accuracy of analyses based on aerial photographs.
Following his separation from active military service in 1946 as a Lieutenant (he was in the U.S. naval reserves until 1955), Mr. Keir earned a master’s degree from Harvard University’s Littauer School of Public Administration (now the John F. Kennedy School of Government). Upon graduation, he became a junior faculty member at Amherst College, where he was a lecturer in economics, a job he left at the end of the 1952-53 academic year to begin his government service.
Mr. Keir was married to Audrey Prior from 1944 to 1958. Although the marriage ended in divorce, Peter and Audrey forged what was a unique relationship for that time, with Peter taking primary custody of their two children, daughter Ellen, born in 1950, and son Bruce, born in 1952. The former couple remained on friendly terms, cooperated amicably to apportion time for holidays and vacations, and lived just a few miles apart for nearly fifty more years, until Audrey’s death in 2008.
Mr. Keir’s subsequent marriage in 1959 to Joyce Sherwood, an economist with the International Monetary Fund, proved to be a more compatible match. Joyce was a caring and resourceful stepmother to Ellen and Bruce, and another son, David, was born in 1962. Peter and Joyce enjoyed entertaining in their home, leisurely Sundays reading the Washington Post, sharing mystery novels and, especially post-retirement, traveling to Europe with the Elderhostel program. Peter continued to play tennis until he was 93 years old, and golf for several years after that. Peter and Joyce were happily married for almost 57 years, until her death in 2016.
Survivors include his three children, Ellen Keir and her partner Hoyt Cousins of Duxbury, MA; Bruce Keir and his wife Tish (Wittbold) of Davie, FL; and David Keir and his wife Lorraine (Predham) of Alexandria, VA; as well as grandchildren Haley Bobseine of Beirut, Lebanon; Sam Bobseine and his wife Molli (Kouble) of Plymouth, MA; Peter Bobseine of Alexandria, VA; Christopher Keir of Shenzhen, China; Heather (Keir) Zatik and her husband Alex Zatik of Parkland, FL; and Caroline Keir of Alexandria, VA. Two great-grandchildren are due to arrive in the coming months.
A memorial celebration of life is planned for this fall. As a native New Englander, Mr. Keir always preferred a crisp autumn day with a hint of color in the foliage to the typical hazy, hot and humid days of summertime in D.C.
In lieu of flowers or targeted charitable contributions, Peter would urge donations of both money and time to the 2020 Democratic Presidential nominee.