Kenyon Remembers Alex McKeown

The former associate professor of political science was known as “a fine teacher who cared about his students, a kind man beneath the gruff and bearded exterior.”


The College recently learned of the death of Alex R. McKeown, a former associate professor of political science at Kenyon, on Jan. 29, 2022. McKeown, who was 66, had long battled frontotemporal degeneration, a rare disease characterized by neurodegenerative changes that affect the brain.

“Alex McKeown was a valued member of the department and a valued friend,” said Professor of Political Science Fred Baumann. “A tough-minded student of war and political history, he was, at the same time, deeply interested in all human thinking and feeling and happy to share and discuss ideas across the spectrum of human life. He was a fine teacher who cared about his students, a kind man beneath the gruff and bearded exterior. And he was a joyous man, as his love of his wife Sue, of pick-up basketball and of 1930s screwball comedies always revealed. I have missed him greatly since his untimely retirement.”

A native of Monroe, Wisconsin, where he was born on Jan. 21, 1956, McKeown graduated from Monroe High School in 1974 as an all-conference fullback, heavyweight wrestler, and member of the track and field team, throwing the shot put and discus. He then attended the University of Wisconsin–LaCrosse, where he majored in history, minored in political science, and played Division III football for one year. He graduated with honors in 1978. 

Before entering graduate school at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, McKeown worked at Huber Brewery, where he had also worked during college summers, in his hometown of Monroe. He went on to earn his master’s degree and Ph.D. from Madison, where he met his future wife, Sue, who was employed by the university. 

In August 1986, Alex and Sue moved to central Ohio, where Alex began his career as an assistant professor at Kenyon. He was awarded tenure and promoted to associate professor in 1992. In June 2012, he was forced to retire from academic life because of the advancing frontotemporal degeneration. 

“It was my privilege to have interviewed Alex for his position at the College, along with [Professor Emeritus of Political Science] Kirk Emmert,” remembered Pam Jensen, professor emerita of political science. “He was a very caring colleague, easy to work with and always ready with an encouraging word. One of my favorite things to do with Alex was a joint mini-class we did each spring, in preparation for ‘comps,’ that integrated international relations and political theory. Alex had a way with students that encouraged them to voice their opinions in a civil and orderly way.  

“When Alex, who was one of the most well-organized people I ever met, had to stay late on campus, he and I used to go out for Chinese food and free-wheeling talk.” Jensen continued. “It was always congenial and fun. I will miss him.”

“Alex was a terrific colleague, whose opinion I often sought out when something momentous was happening on the world stage, like the end of the Cold War or 9/11 or the invasion of Iraq,” recalled Professor of Political Science Tim Spiekerman. “His responses were invariably sober, historically informed, and judicious. I always came away with a deeper understanding of events and knew that his students were lucky to have him as a teacher.

“I played poker with Alex and a few colleagues for years,” Spiekerman added, “and remember the friendship and camaraderie of those evenings fondly.” 

McKeown is survived by his wife, Sue; three sisters, Meighan McKeown, Peg Knaapen and Mary Washbush; three nieces; and several other members of his and Sue’s extended families.  A funeral service for Alex took place on Saturday, Feb. 19, followed by interment at Mifflin Township Cemetery in Gahanna, Ohio. 

Memorial contributions may be made to St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, 7501 South Old State Road, Lewis Center, OH 43035, to support the church’s sponsorship of an Afghan refugee family; to the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration at, or to Dr. Douglas Scharre’s research at the Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center in care of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Fund in Neurology (Fund #302185).