Robert H. Keenan
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Robert H. Keenan San Francisco native, Navy veteran, Vintner, Entrepreneur and Sportsman Robert H. Keenan, born May 13, 1924 to first-generation San Franciscans, Hugh and Pat Keenan, died peacefully in his home on Friday the 17th from complications with his 20-year struggle with emphysema. Growing up on Laguna Street in San Francisco Robert attended Saint Ignatius High School and went on to Stanford University in 1942. After two years at Stanford Robert joined the Navy and trained to become a dive bomber pilot flying off of aircraft carriers. During his training in Mobile, AL, Robert one day "borrowed" the base commander's plane and while on his joyride ran out of gas and had to crash land it in a farmer's field somewhere near the base. The Navy, desperate for new flying officers who were willing to fly off of aircraft carriers, managed to overlook this incident and gave Robert his wings in 1945. Post-war flying hi-jinks continued with stunts such as flying under the Golden Gate Bridge and landing on the take off way at the Alameda Naval Air Station one very foggy morning in 1960, nearly colliding with then Vice President Nixon's plane as it awaited take off clearance. Back at Stanford in the Fall of 1946 Robert continued his education, majoring in political science and European history and starring on the tennis team in his senior year. After Stanford, Robert entered into the insurance business, eventually becoming a partner in the Fred S. James Company. In 1953 Robert met and married Hillsborough debutante Mariana Casserly. Through Mariana and her parents he was introduced to the world of fine wine and fly fishing, two things that became lifelong passions. Real estate drew his interest away from the insurance business, and in 1966 Robert, along with his partner Frank McGinnis, founded the Buena Vista Land Company with the purchase of several apartment complexes in the Monterey Peninsula. Robert remained the managing general partner of the company for 40 years, overseeing all acquisitions and major decisions. But Robert's greatest real estate find came in 1974 when looking for a site to start a winery in the Napa Valley, he came across 170 acres and an abandoned winery high in the Mayacamas Mountains west of St. Helena in what is today known as the Spring Mountain Appellation. Without any formal training in viticulture or oenology, Robert felt certain that to make great wines that could compete with the great first growths that he had fallen in love with, he would have to be up in the mountains where the terrain would be more stressful, not down in the valley where the soil would be too rich. Robert's proudest accomplishment in the wine business was being one of the first producers of Merlot as a high end, stand-alone varietal. To prove that Spring Mountain Merlot deserved to be on the same stage as the greatest Merlots in the world, he staged three blind tastings with the great Chateau Petrus, which to the shock of many, ended in a virtual draw. The one great passion that Robert was able to enjoy his entire life was the tending and care of his one hundred bush rose garden at his home in San Mateo. Known by certain family members as the "Mad Pruner," he applied himself to this hobby as he did to all his pursuits, always trying to set an example to his children that excellence was the only option. Robert is survived by his two daughters, Dean Keenan of Alameda, Suzanne Keenan of San Francisco; his son Michael Keenan of Oakland; and his four grandchildren: Reilly, Madison, Whitney and Nicholas. A private ceremony will be held at the winery. Donations to the Alzheimer's Association, 2065 West El Camino Real, Ste C, Mountain View, CA 94040.

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Published in San Francisco Chronicle from Nov. 24 to Nov. 26, 2006.
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