In his vast office on the 14th floor of the Union Bank building that affords a picturesque view of the Long Beach Harbor and that is lined with photos, citations, Tiffany artifacts, Remington sculptures and sundry other ornaments, Samuel (Skip) Keesal is recalling one of the countless compelling moments in his fascinating life.
No, it wasn’t one of the many victorious cases the founding partner of Keesal, Logan & Young has been involved in across the years. Or one of the many super-lawyer, best-lawyer, top-lawyer laurels with which he’s been routinely bestowed by various publications and organizations. Or even one of his many meetings with political figures such as Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Henry Kissinger, Margaret Thatcher, John Kerry, Gerald Ford, Barbara Boxer, Diane Feinstein, Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, Jimmy Carter, Nancy Pelosi, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, etc., etc., etc.
As Keesal sits behind his desk, he relates an experience he had in the mid-1970s when he made a stopover in San Antonio to visit one of his attorneys who had been handling a major case—and wound up the day at a ranch where steers were being roped.
“Here I was wearing a Brooks Brothers suit and Gucci loafers, and asked the guy doing the roping if I could try my hand at it,” says Keesal with a chuckle. “And he said, `Sure, go ahead, but watch out for the horse.’ And so I took off my suit coat, and got on the horse and went out and roped a steer without any trouble from the horse.”
Now the fact that Skip Keesal was able to wasn’t exactly a startling development. After all, he participated on the professional rodeo circuit for a couple of years when he was a high school teenager growing up on his father’s 109-acre ranch in Tucson, and he rode horses bare back, rode bulls and perfected the art of roping calves and steers.
“Roping is like riding a bike – once you learn it, you don’t forget it,” he says.
But what made the San Antonio experience so memorable for Keesal is that it had been 10 years since he had performed such a feat and that it renewed his passion for it. “From then on to this day, I’ve been roping,” says Keesal.
You must understand that during the decade that he didn’t he was laboring long hours trying to establish himself in his profession, putting in his dues before setting out on his own in 1970 and soon forming what has become one of the most influential law firms in the country that handles some of its mightiest—Citigroup, Bank of America, G.E., UPS, Wells Fargo, etc.—corporate entities.
“I just didn’t have much time to do anything but practice law in those early days,” he says. “But once I got back to roping that one time, I got the bug again—and found time.”
Skip Keesal would begin performing in rodeos at the Forum, the Los Angeles Sports Arena and the Long Beach Arena, and now lassos steers at the Empty Saddle Club near his residence in Rolling Hills Estates.
Not surprising for a gentleman some believe is the most powerful figure in Long Beach since he’s so well-connected politically—he was one of the attorneys who represented the Clintons in Whitewater and has remained close to the ex-President—and since his astounding success rate in legal cases has even been matched by his similarly astounding charitable contributions to organizations like the Boys & Girls Club, the YMCA, Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, the Long Beach Legal Aid Foundation and so many others.
You see, Keesal has managed to remain in prime shape through a disciplined diet and a 30-minute, four-day-a-week regimen on the treadmill, as he spreads a mere 160 pounds across a wiry 5-foot-9 frame.
He insists he’s 70, but the Long Beach State graduate—one of his jobs when attending the school was overseeing the Press-Telegram paper boys—looks and acts much younger, as he evinces an aura of boundless energy and unrehearsed amiability.
He still puts in long hours at his downtown office in a building his firm owns, and so many of his evenings are spent attending civic fund-raising events.
“You have to find time for those in need of help,” he says simply. “I’ve been very fortunate in my life. I feel so fortunate to have a good law practice and so many good people working for me. I feel so fortunate to have a wonderful wife (Beth) three wonderful grown children (Carolyn, Katherine and Steven) and a wonderful grandson (Jackson). I feel so fortunate to have visited so many great places in Europe and around the world, like the Mount Kenya Safari Club founded by the actor William Holden. The least I can do is give something back…”
Although he insists he’s not a fanatic of athletics, Keesal certainly has exhibited a keen interest.
On the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend, he stages the biggest, if not most coveted party to be at, as more than 1,000 people are invited to his Oceangate enclave to observe the proceedings.
The USC Law School graduate says there was a stretch when he didn’t miss a Trojan football game for 17 years, and he is an annual spectator at the Indianapolis 500.
He saw several of Muhammad Ali’s fights, has been to a few Super Bowls, and has a strong affection for the Dodgers.
He once was quite a volleyball player—especially on the beach—and also is an accomplished skier. But Skip Keesal will tell you his greatest sporting ardor always has been for roping.
“I’ve been doing it since I was a kid, and it’s never got out of my blood,” he says. “Sure, I’ve taken some tumbles over the years, and a while back even tore a bicep. But I still enjoy it. It’s always a challenge, of course. But I’ve always liked challenges…”
Long Beach Press-Telegram