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5 Years Later: Remembering Bill Keightley

(It’s about to get a little dusty in here after watching that video…)

Five years ago, a man was lost. Perhaps more importantly though, a life was celebrated. Bill Keightley, affectionately known as “Mr. Wildcat,” was the common thread for so many generations of Kentucky basketball players, coaches, and fans. While the players came and went, and the head coaching position changed hands, Keightley was always there. Bill Keightley was the constant in the ever-changing world of a major college basketball program.

In a way, Bill Keightley represented all of us. Keightley had his responsibilities; and to be certain, they were abundant and important to the day-to-day functioning of the program. At his core though, Keightley was a fan. His passion and devotion to the program was unwavering. It didn’t matter which player was wearing the jersey, or which coach was drawing up the plays. If Kentucky was sprawled across the chest, Keightley’s love and support was given.

Kentucky basketball has been defined by success over time. A few names have managed to become as synonymous with Kentucky basketball as the wins and championships. Rupp. Cawood. Keightley. When you think about it, the fact that an equipment manager has managed to become a name engraved within the history of the most storied college basketball program in the country, is quite incredible. 

Sure, some of Keightley’s importance to the Kentucky tradition comes from his longevity with the program. Keightley devoted 48 years of his life to the job. Using the label “job” doesn’t even feel right though, because it has always been obvious that for Keightley it was so much more than that. And that’s why Keightley became so important to Kentucky basketball. It wasn’t just the 48 years of service, but also the connections he made with the players and staff. The pictures of Keightley and players spanning from generation to generation display just a glimpse into the affection and bond shared by the players with “Mr. Wildcat.” The smiles are genuine– candid moments of a man and his passion and love captured throughout time:

With the passing of Bill Keightley and Cawood Ledford, it’s hard to imagine anyone having as deep and long-term of a connection to the program as either of those two. Keightley, who left his position as a postal carrier in 1962 to be the assistant equipment manager, was around for the coaching careers of Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall, Eddie Sutton, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith and Billy Gillispie. 

Keightley passed away on March 31st, 2008. His life was celebrated and remembered in a ceremony that took place in Rupp Arena. That day was easily my most memorable moment as a Kentucky fan. Rupp Arena was flooded with Kentucky fans, former players, former coaches, friends of Keightley, and even some people who just understood the magnitude of Keightley’s life and love of Kentucky basketball– even if they didn’t share that same love themselves. Rupp Arena has hosted hundreds of big basketball games over the years. I’m not sure the walls of Rupp Arena have ever hosted anything more moving or as special as Keightley’s memorial service though. Keightley’s love and life brought together a room full of people who might have never gravitated toward one another for any other reason. Rick Pitino was welcomed warmly back into Rupp Arena for the first time as he delivered an emotional speech honoring Keightley. Former players shared memories, as well as the coach at the time, Billy Gillispie. Some cried. Some laughed. Some simply remembered and paid respect.

Bill Keightley brought us all together on that day. One man will never be bigger than the Kentucky basketball program itself, but one man has probably never embodied the Kentucky basketball program as well as “Mr. Wildcat.”


Article written by Ally Tucker

I once successfully requested "The Wobble" to be played 6 times at one wedding.

18 Comments for 5 Years Later: Remembering Bill Keightley

  1. EC
    9:35 pm March 31, 2013 Permalink

    Thank you for this post. Bill Keightley is one of many reasons why Kentucky is so special. There will never be another like him.

  2. Kev
    9:37 pm March 31, 2013 Permalink

    True Blue Legend.

  3. Stat
    9:45 pm March 31, 2013 Permalink

    My brother was a student manager for Keightley for 4 years and also a grad asst. for 2 years…he said not a day goes by he doesn’t think of him still and that he has some bourbon every year on his bday to honor him.

  4. BigBlueFan
    9:45 pm March 31, 2013 Permalink

    The entire time I was like, don’t cry, don’t cry, 5 seconds into the video a river was formed at my feet

  5. Katfantoo
    10:05 pm March 31, 2013 Permalink

    I think about how much he’d be ( and is ) enjoying the teams of our past few years . Loved the RESPECT shown him

  6. wildcat
    10:09 pm March 31, 2013 Permalink

    i think he would loved this staff and fell in love with all the players i wish he could have been there when they won the chapionship last year but i know he was there in spirit and will always be there in spirit but yes i do think Bill Keightley and John calipari would been like two peas in a pod asking for Bill’s advise listen to his stories and shown love to one another i really do belivie that.

  7. Corey
    10:15 pm March 31, 2013 Permalink

    I’m thankful I was able to meet him. He was, as I expected, a perfect gentleman. Well done, Ally.

  8. Wildcatsteeler
    10:20 pm March 31, 2013 Permalink

    Shame he didn’t get to stick around a little bit longer and see Cal take us back to the mountain top.

  9. UK Freshmen
    10:23 pm March 31, 2013 Permalink

    He washed jock straps, right?

  10. Garrett
    10:24 pm March 31, 2013 Permalink

    Kyle Wiltjer just confirmed via twitter, he will not transfer.

  11. F'n UL Trolls
    10:27 pm March 31, 2013 Permalink

    Really you pieces of sh!t trolls. I don’t get why u care more about UK than u do ur own teams. Get a clue regards.

  12. btowncatfan
    10:28 pm March 31, 2013 Permalink

    Mr. Keightley was a retired postman. Know people who he delivered mail to, always ran late on his route for stopping to talk. He was a special man. Loved everyone.

  13. ninji
    10:45 pm March 31, 2013 Permalink

    Glad to see Mr Wildcat still remembered. Glad Cawood got a mention too. To me, Cawood was always, overall, more important to bbn.

  14. TravisC
    11:03 pm March 31, 2013 Permalink

    I met Bill Keightley once. He was in the urinal next to me at the Outback Steakhouse in Richmond.

  15. katzrjamers
    12:07 am April 1, 2013 Permalink

    Wonderful post Ally, hope KSR keeps up the tradition. This made me want to go back to last year and read Another Mr. Keightley tribute, this one was from Ashley Scoby, from last year. Keep the torch burning. GO UK.

  16. SamKat
    6:50 am April 1, 2013 Permalink

    I am so happy to declare that Jeanie and I were friends of Bill Keightley. So many of us were, yet he recognized us (probably because of Jeanie’s beauty). As we arrived back at the Hyatt in Atlanta from the tornado-ized Georgia Dome, we met Bill outside. We wanted him to go on forever as all UK fans did. RIP Mr. Keightley, and thanks to our friend and former student assistant to Mr.Bill, Sean Alteri!

    Thank You also, Ally!

  17. OhioWildcat
    9:46 am April 1, 2013 Permalink

    Great post! That pic of Ramel and Mr. Wildfat always makes me smile. Definitely my most favorite pic of Mr. Keightley. had the pleasure of meeting and having a picture taken with Mr. Keightley at a Craft Center open house in Summer 2007. He was a perfect gentleman and very accommodating to the hundreds – if not thousands – of folks who made the pilgrimage to Lexington that day. RIP Mr. Keightley.

  18. Karen Keightley Marlowe
    3:48 pm April 1, 2013 Permalink

    Thanks to everyone in the BBN for remembering Daddy today. I continue to be blessed by the loving thoughts and memories you all share. Please keep it up, it warms my heart today and every day. As usual his spirit is in Cincinnati today for opening day. I purchased a brick in his honor on the Johnny Bench statue, it should be displayed later in the summer.