Reprinted from the Long Beach Press Telegram
Rich Archibold: Legal legend Skip Keesal a power with humility
By Rich Archibold, Long Beach Press Telegram- Published April 1, 2013
Legendary Long Beach attorney Skip Keesal’s first experience with the YMCA did not go well.
In fact, it almost killed him.
Before an audience of more than 700 at the 45th annual YMCA Good Friday breakfast at the Long Beach Convention Center, Keesal said he had mixed emotions about first experience at the Y.
“I was eight or nine and living in Oak Park, Illinois, when my mother thought it would be good for me to learn how to swim,” he said. “We went to the pool at the Y, but there was no shallow end, or at least no place where I could stand on the bottom without water going over my head. I didn’t know if the Y was trying to teach me how to swim or trying to kill me. Needless to say, I am not big in water sports.” The audience laughed as Keesal said all was forgiven, and he has since grown to appreciate the outstanding work the Y does in the community, including teaching kids how to swim.
In fact, Keesal’s gospel on this Easter weekend was to praise everyone in the room for helping those less fortunate than themselves.
“What I see in this room is the heart center of Long Beach and the region,” he said. “Our village is here today, and we need to keep moving forward.” In his introduction of Keesal, Don Knabe, Los Angeles County Supervisor and emcee, said Keesal was the most powerful person in Long Beach, “powerful meaning caring. Skip is a great philanthropist who has touched everyone in this room.” When most people run around trying to claim credit for things they’ve done, they might want to take a page from Keesal.
“I’m a glass half-full kind of guy, not a half-empty guy,” Keesal said in explaining his outlook on life. “I’ve learned the hard way on how to get through life.” Keesal started out with practically nothing in his pockets after graduating from Cal State University Long Beach with a business degree in 1962 and from the USC Law School in 1965.
After five years of practice with two law firms, he founded the law firm of Keesal, Young & Logan in 1970. The firm has grown to be one of the most prestigious in California and the nation. Keesal himself has the distinction of being designated as a Best Lawyer in America in six categories. Keesal’s philanthropic generosity and involvement in civic projects in Long Beach is legendary, most of it behind the scenes.
In an earlier interview with me, Keesal traced his strong work ethic and community outreach to his nickname, Skip. Hardly anyone calls him by his given name, Samuel.
When Keesal was a young boy living in the Chicago area, his father was away a lot because of a sales job.
“My mother told me I was the skipper of the house,” he said. “The name stuck.” So it has and Keesal, indeed, is the skipper of many things: his law firm, his charitable contributions and his community leadership.
Despite all the awards and accolades, Keesal remains a modest and humble person.
He told the breakfast audience Friday that they were the ones making Long Beach a better place to live.
“You folks are wonderful,” he said. “Thank you for being the center of energy in the community.” He challenged the audience to put themselves in the shoes of other people to better understand them and help them.
One simple way to help others is to tell an employee that he or she is doing a good job and how much you appreciate that, he said.
“Can you imagine what that does to someone so they can go home that day and tell their family, ‘Someone at the office said I’m doing a good job.’ They can hold their head up high.” Keesal’s final challenge was to tell attendees: “Everyone here should be able to say that, in some small way, I helped make things better for others. You can help in many ways, from business activities to charitable work to random acts of kindness.
Good things happen when you help others.” When the breakfast ended and, as attendees were filing out, someone quoted the Bible: “Skip is a living testament to the verse that says those who humble themselves shall be exalted and those that exalt themselves shall be humbled.” Many nodded in agreement.