"When Michael Hayes first approached me in the days after the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements in October, 1991, at the then Renakse hotel across from the Royal Palace, waving a letter he had written to King Sihanouk and ranting on something about seeking Royal approval to open the first independent newspaper in Indochina since it fell to communist rule in 1975, I was both wholly enthusiastic and convinced he was a tad bonkers.
Both being enthusiastic and being bonkers were essential character traits to successfully operating in Cambodia in those wobbly days of the 1990's as the country stuck their feet, reluctantly, into the cold waters tiptoeing towards democracy.
What Michael Hayes failed to mention was he had a secret weapon in the arsenal of his goofy scheme to create the Phnom Penh Post: His then wife, Kathleen O'Keefe
Kathleen had one of the sharpest minds, and certainly the most beautiful eyes, of anyone I have ever met. She was an organizational genius with a beautiful heart.
Kathleen O'Keefe was the Phnom Penh Post's secret weapon of success--a sort of combination General George Patton and Mother Theresa--but decidedly more mesmerizingly gorgeous.
I have never met anybody who did not love Kathleen O'Keefe.
There was never any question among anyone, from the get go, that it was Kathleen who was in charge, the irreplaceable glue, that kept the very, very goofy idea of planting the flag of the Free Press in the headquarters of the belly of the beast, Phnom Penh, alive.
When the Phnom Penh Post set up shop in a three story rented villa across from Wat Botum in 1991, Michael and Kathleen lived on the first floor, the Post newspaper operations were on the second floor, and I lived on the third floor. The newspaper, against all odds, took root and, deservedly, quickly acquired the reputation as a must-read, unflinching, truth-telling, remarkably principled bastion of the Free Press.
While the Phnom Penh Post flourished, Kathleen and Michael's marriage did not. Soon enough, Michael moved up to the extra bedroom next to mine on the third floor and Kathleen remained on the first floor.
I am sure Michael deserved it, whatever it is that makes things like marriages and newspapers not work out. But they retained a remarkable respect and affection for one another and the newspaper operation never skipped a beat. Michael and Kathleen and the rest of the Post troops continued to cherish the Post.
The Phnom Penh Post was something bigger and more important than any of us, alone, then. And, arguably, Kathleen was bigger and more important than any of us who were lucky enough to be affiliated with the Post in those important days.
Everyone had a special, untouchable place in their heart to cherish Kathleen.
I can't tell you how many times Michael Hayes reiterated that the paper could simply not survive without Kathleen. He was, like he mostly was, right.
When he was not, Kathleen stepped in and fixed things that the rest of us did not have the talent or brain power or will or charm to accomplish. She was the glue that kept the beast together and she kept well-oiled the many, ever changing moving parts of running a newspaper.
I loved Kathleen O'Keefe. Everyone did.
And I was and, remain, in awe of her talents and her heart. Everyone who knew her was.
It is very, very sad that Kathleen has gone now, at the age I am now, writing this, 54. It is sobering for everyone.
But it is much, much more of a blessing for everyone lucky enough to have her share her special, extraordinary self with, however cut short that has been. I choose to remain thankful that I was among them. Thank you, Kathleen, for making me a better person and for making the world a better place.