Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Thomas Francis Keyes

Sept. 19, 1957 – June 26, 2023


Last updated 9/14/2023 at 11:46am

Thomas Francis Keyes was born September 19, 1957 to Gerard and Rose (Ciancola) Keyes. He grew up in Park Ridge, Illinois, and quickly developed a love of baseball, drawing, and music. He got his first guitar when he was 10, and the guitar became and remained his lifelong passion. He was kind, made friends easily, and had a quick sense of humor. He moved with his parents to Tucson, AZ in 1974, and graduated from Canyon del Oro High School there in 1975.

In high school, he said he had four hours of art class every morning. Thom was a mural painter and a talented artist. In Tucson, he worked in his father's ice company, in meat processing, drove a limo, owned a Harley, married briefly to Barbara, and then to Holly, with whom he raised two boys.

He managed the bar at the Steakhouse around 1980 – 1983, and played music in the Tucson clubs for years. He worked as a machinist. He was Shift Lead, General Manager, Lead Programmer and Shift Supervisor in his roles in machine shops. He joked he was Regan Youth, building war toys when he could've been building guitars.

Thom came to Borrego from Arizona in 1998 with his friend Tracey and quickly found work as a bartender, a talent he brought from a younger age. He worked at The Palms at Indian Head, Carlee's, Bernard's and finally Carmelita's. Thom was a favorite bartender; easy to talk to on any subject, quick-witted and a thoughtful server. In black Levi's, boots, a pressed collar shirt and rock 'n' roll hair, he would arrive for his shift with fresh strawberries or some other treat for his patrons. His free time was always spent gardening or playing guitar. Impromptu jam sessions would ensue whenever fellow musicians stopped by. They oftentimes entertained the neighbors without request.

2009 was the year Thom began to have breathing issues (COPD); went to the local clinic for an x-ray and was then confronted by the CEO of Borrego Community Health Foundation (BCHF) and the sheriff, for paying with a bank bag full of coins and having his patient advocate snap a photo of the exchange. That incident would prove to be the trigger that launched the Borrego Sun's investigation into the suspiciousness of the BCHF CEO.

In March 2009, Thom rented the local theater for an evening performance by himself, for the community, he called "One Man – One Guitar, the Old Fashioned Way," where he wowed the audience with his acoustic, electric, 12-string and slide guitar techniques, as well as his extensive lyrical repertoire of cover songs. He had hundreds of songs in his savant-like memory. This show may have been the highlight of his life in Borrego. Playing for a large audience was his dream.

His 'shining' continued into 2010, when his first drawing in 20 years won the logo contest for the Borrego Days Desert Festival. He was Co-Grand Marshal in the parade for his 'Art & Soul' entry, which depicts a particle collision and expresses his fascination with physics. People liked it and didn't know why!

Later in 2010, after a bountiful and festive Thanksgiving dinner with all his friends, Thom could not breathe, and his heart stopped. He was life-flighted 'to hospital' and was resuscitated three times that evening. Left with anoxic encephalopathy and severe ataxia, Thom struggled with health and the body over the next 13 years, living with his partner and caretaker, Ellen Fitzpatrick, and her son Christopher.

He lived to see Christopher bear a son, Sylvestre, and was overjoyed about being a grandpa. Sylvestre was 9-months-old when Thom passed. Thom knew it would happen that week in June. Each day he told us, "I love you all," "I'm dying," and, "I'm glad to have spent this time with you."

He is survived by his brother David Keyes and the two boys he raised in Arizona, Alexander Morgan and his brother Austin.

A Remembrance is planned on Saturday, September 16 from noon-4 p.m. at Borrego Springs Resort.

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