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McKeown gets roasted at retirement celebration

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MASSENA - Friends and colleagues of Patricia L. McKeown gathered this week to share a few laughs as they celebrated the career of a woman who has led the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce for the past seven years.

Ms. McKeown, who could be referred to as the Brett Favre of St. Lawrence County, recalled how she became the chamber director.

As she was enjoying one of her previous retirements, Ms. McKeown said she received a phone call asking her to serve as interim director until a permanent replacement could be found.

“I was on my dock with my dogs and a pitcher of magaritas,” she said. “It was 11 a.m.”

Ms. McKeown, who followed longtime friend and County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire in the position, said she agreed to do so on an interim basis.

“They told me it was going to be for a short time,” she said. “That was seven years ago.”

Ms. McKeown’s previous record of employment included time spent as the editor of the Massena Observer, at North Country Public Radio, at the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services and working as north country representative for former Governor Mario Cuomo.

“There are two things you can get from that,” master of ceremonies Sanford T. “Sandy” Cook quipped. “She is a great worker, but the other thing is the woman can’t hold a job.”

It was even said during the event that this most likely wasn’t her final retirement party.

“Pat will have a job in two weeks,” retired St. Lawrence County Newspapers Editor-Publisher Charles W. “Chuck” Kelly said. “I don’t know what it will be, but she’ll do great even if it’s baby-sitting.”

At the close of the evening, Mr. Cook joked, “We’ll meet again at Pat’s next retirement party.”

St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce Board President Ryan Deuel noted there was a reason so many people were in attendance at the party at the Massena Country Club.

“These people are all here because of the great work you have done over the years,” he said, before telling a few jokes and stories of his own.

“About this time last year I got a call from her asking me if I wanted to be board president,” he said. “I really didn’t want to, and I even think I said no, but about a month later I got a call from Pat asking me if I wanted to go lunch.”

He said it was then he realized he was going to end up serving as the next chamber president.

“Anyone who has ever been to lunch with Pat knows they don’t have a chance in hell of saying no to whatever she is going to ask,” he said.

Mr. Kelly remembered meeting Ms. McKeown for the first time.

“When I first met her, she was shy and reserved,” he said. “She’s come a long way, baby, let me tell you.’

Mr. Kelly said if she doesn’t find another job soo, he wants to be the one to chronicle her retirement.

“Next summer we’re all going to see her in Waddington on a raft with a fishing pole in a bikini and I want to be the one to take the picture,” he said.

Ms. McKeown, who has three grown children and four grandchildren, said she remembers receiving phone calls from Mr. Kelly at home, many of them answered by her children.

“You would pick up the phone and he would just say one thing, ‘Pat Chuck,’ it was like one word,” she recalled. “They (her kids) thought it was some kind of animal like a woodchuck or something.”

Ms. St. Hilaire also had a telephone story to tell. With Ms. McKeown’s busy schedule, she wasn’t always the easiest person, even for her children or grandchildren, to reach.

“She also has four grandchildren and they often call and leave messages on our answering machine like ‘Guess what Granny, I’ve gone poo poo on the potty,’” Ms. St. Hilaire said. “My hope is now that she is retired she’ll be able to take those calls first hand.”

Fishing was also a big topic of discussion. Even though she spearheaded the chamber’s FishCap initiative, which seeks to make the county a destination for fishing, Ms. McKeown herself does not often catch fish, and does not eat fish.

FishCap Coordinator Donald R. Meissner said looking back at the initial efforts to bring the Bassmaster Elite Series to St. Lawrence County and selling such a large organization on holding a tournament here was not an easy thing to do.

“They didn’t want to come here because they didn’t believe we could pull it off, but for those you who don’t know we did, and we set records,” he said. “I hope you can continue to do as much for all of us here as you have done in the past.”

Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray recalled the first-ever meeting for what would eventually become FishCap, a meeting attended by 35 people, some of whom drove for more than 90 minutes to attend that initial session.

At that time, he said, he thought, “We have a lot of water, but don’t really do anything to capitalize on it.”

As the fledgling effort began to form into something more, Mr. Gray said North Country Savings Bank President David Swanson told him that the bank would be wiling to contribute $5,000 to the efforts.

When he excitedly told Ms. McKeown about the donation, her reaction wasn’t what Mr. Gray expected.

“She said, ‘No, no, they’re good for more than that.”

Even coming off of the success of this past summer’s tournament in Waddington, Mr. Gray said he feels like FishCap has yet to reach its full potential.

“We still don’t know what we’ve got here or where it’s going to go, but we do know the Elite series came here because of FishCap,” he said.

The evening also included several tributes, including a resolution from the state Senators Elizabeth Little, Patricia A. Ritchie and Joseph A. Griffo presented by representatives of Mr. Griffo’s and Ms. Ritchie’s office. Ms. McKeown was presented with a cake and pig statue as retirement gifts.

Mr. Cook also read a letter to Ms. McKeown from Governor Andrew M. Cuomo.

Ms. McKeown recalled the governor’s visit to Waddington this past summer, but before telling the story, she said she wanted to make sure it would be safe to tell.

“There’s no one here from the governor’s office, is there?” she asked. “He told everyone he was so impressed with the crowds in Waddington that Bassmaster were coming back to New York state, but in the Finger Lakes.” she said.

Ms. McKeown said she remembers telling the governor, “The next time you’re in St. Lawrence County and standing on St. Lawrence County soil, don’t send New Yorkers to the Finger Lakes.”

As for the pig statue, St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce Events Coordinator Jo Ann Roberts said there was a story behind that too.

Ms. Roberts said that anyone who knew Ms. McKeown knew of her special affinity for pigs, but through working in an office with her there was a particular pig statue in Brasher that Ms. Roberts and the other chamber employees had been hearing about for quite some time.

Ms. Roberts said at one point the people who owned the home with the statue had moved and were having an auction. Ms. McKeown said she went to the auction with her eyes set on obtaining the statue, only to discover that it wasn’t for sale. At the auction, she said she was told the statue had been given to the neighbors.

Upon hearing this, Ms. Roberts said she made it her goal to acquire the statue for Ms. McKeown’s retirement gift.

After driving out to Brasher with the intent of purchasing the statue, Ms. Roberts said she was told the family had actually taken it with them when they moved.

“So they lied?” Ms. McKeown said with a laugh.

Without the statue available for purchase, Ms. Roberts said she then asked them to describe the statue so they could possibly find another one.

“She loves pigs and she has talked about and wanted this thing more than anything else we have known her to want over the past few years,” Ms. Roberts said.

Ms. St. Hilaire, like many of the people in attendance, was aware of a pig up for adoption at the Potsdam Animal Shelter.

“I’m really glad you guys gave her this pig and not a real pig,” she said.






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