Although Daniel Keyes served as a judge and campaigned for presidents, he always stayed close to home in Springfield, and to the Hungry Hill neighborhood where he grew up.
In the introduction to a book published two years ago that celebrated Hungry Hill’s history, Mr. Keyes said the neighborhood was “populated by a friendly and gregarious people, bonded by a heritage of suffering and desolation; a people who could be brawling, quarrelsome, and at times hostile, but who, even in their worst moments, were men and women with virtues and human failings circumscribed by an unwavering faith in their Catholicism, and in a loving God’s infinite mercy and justice.”
Mr. Keyes, a District Court judge for many years, died Oct. 19 in his Springfield home. He was 93.
A staunch Democrat, he played behind-the-scenes roles in local, state, and national politics, beginning as a teenager when his longtime friend, Edward P. Boland, recruited him as a campaign manager.
Mr. Keyes often said that meeting Boland was the “defining moment of his life,” said one of his daughters, Martha Ahr, of North Palm Beach, Fla., who was Boland’s goddaughter.
After being injured in a boyhood accident, Mr. Keyes was watching from the sidelines as friends played baseball when Boland, who was several years older, noticed the boy with the bandaged hand.
Boland, at the time a 23-year-old playground director, was going from field to field, collecting game scores to report to the local newspaper, and invited Mr. Keyes to help.
Later Boland asked Mr. Keyes to run his first campaign, when he was elected to the state House of Representatives. Boland went on to serve in the US House, representing the Second District for many years.
At 16, Mr. Keyes graduated from Classical High School with no plans to leave Springfield. Boland, who was serving in the state Legislature, persuaded Mr. Keyes to enroll in Boston College and paid his friend’s tuition. Boland also let Mr. Keyes stay in his Boston apartment, and those experiences inspired Mr. Keyes to be exceptionally generous himself, his family said.
“While he was growing up, he didn’t think he’d be in the position to help people all that much, and he loved that it turned out he could,” his daughter said. “He was so generous to everyone. It gave him so much pleasure.”
Boland played another important role in his friend’s life when he set him up on a date with Gertrude Dewire. They married in 1944. Mrs. Keyes died in 2006.
The oldest of six children, Daniel M. Keyes Jr. was born in Springfield. He graduated in 1939 from Boston College, and in 1942 from Boston University School of Law.
While still in his mid-20s, Mr. Keyes managed Maurice Tobin’s successful campaign for Massachusetts governor in 1944.
Mr. Keyes was passionate about elections, including this year’s presidential race, said his son, Daniel III, of Springfield.
“After he died, people said to me, ‘It’s going to be tough getting through the holidays without him,’ ” Daniel said. “And I said, ‘Forget the holidays. I don’t know how I’ll get through the election without him.’ ”
In 1944, Mr. Keyes was a delegate at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, helping nominate President Franklin D. Roosevelt for a fourth term.
He also attended the convention in Los Angeles in 1960, when he helped to nominate John F. Kennedy. Then he and Boland helped run Kennedy’s campaign in Ohio.
“He loved politics,” his daughter said. “But he never ran for anything himself. He just ran everyone else’s campaigns. He was such a great political strategist.”
Mr. Keyes was 28 when he was appointed a judge for Chicopee District Court in 1946. In 1978, President Carter appointed Mr. Keyes to a committee nominating judges to the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
In 1950, Mr. Keyes and Edward L. Donnellan founded the Keyes and Donnellan law firm in Springfield. A decade later, Mr. Keyes left the bench to practice law full time.
“Everything that Danny did, he did well, whether it was as a lawyer, a campaigner, or a baseball fan,” said William Sullivan, a close friend and former Springfield mayor.
Sullivan, who had lunch with Mr. Keyes the day before his death, said that whenever he dined with his friend, “I felt that I was a little smarter leaving the restaurant than I had been going in.”
“He was a very smart man, very influential, very kind, and very generous,” Sullivan added. “If you needed advice, he was right there for you. He was very good to the community of Springfield; he was helpful to everyone.”
During his career, Mr. Keyes received numerous awards for his service to Springfield and other communities. At BC, he was involved in several alumni groups.
He also served as chairman of the board of Holyoke Community College, and in 1978 was marshal of the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Of his many associations, his daughter said, he was most proud of being a charter member of the board of the Edward P. Boland Scholarship Fund, which raises tuition money for students from Boland’s district.
Daniel said his father was “the first real recipient of the Boland scholarship,” because of the educational support Boland supplied.
“He underwrote my father’s education for seven years,” Daniel said.
Boland’s widow, Mary, said her husband and Mr. Keyes were “the best of friends,” and that they “stayed close every step of the way.”
“Dan had flawless political judgment,” she said.
Mr. Keyes, who was often asked to be toastmaster at gatherings, was a “very, very funny guy,” she said. “At various dinners, he would have the audience with tears running down their faces from laughing so hard.”
A service has been held for Mr. Keyes, who in addition to his son and daughter leaves four other daughters, Nancy of Springfield, Kathleen Mauthner of Hobe Sound, Fla., G. Elizabeth Scrivener of Alexandria, Va., and Deborah Keyes Tagliaferri of Weymouth; 11 grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.
“He was an amazing guy,” his son said. “He had a million stories, and he would tell you all of them. He was a great storyteller.”
Kathleen McKenna can be reached at email@example.com.