Among the posters of all of the All-American Purdue football players hanging in Mollenkopf Athletic Center, a single light shone on Leroy Keyes’ portrait Saturday.
Guests with varied connections to the iconic two-way player and community leader, many of them donning black-and-gold funeral outfits, came to offer condolences to Keyes' family and remember his life at his memorial service.
Keyes died on April 15 at the age of 74.
Current and former Purdue football players also visited the memorial.
Head coach Jeff Brohm led some members of the football team, including quarterbacks Aidan O’Connell and Jack Plummer as well as running back King Doerue, to pay their respects.
Former players reunited and talked about the impact Keyes had on their lives.
“Coach Keyes was someone (student-athletes) could look at when we’re 18 and see ourselves, like ‘OK, this is what the finished product looks like,’” Purdue alumnus and former wide receiver A.T. Simpson said.
Keyes was an assistant coach from 1995-96 and an administrative assistant from 1997-98 before working with the John Purdue Club for 12 years.
Simpson said for Keyes, a student-athlete earning an A in a course was just as valuable as winning a game.
If a student-athlete had an event, “coach Keyes was going to be there early and he was going to look presentable,” Simpson said. He was always available for his student-athletes, and he taught them how to be the same.
“He’s the best-kept secret,” Simpson said. “I wish he would have had more of a platform.”
Keyes was an outspoken figure on Purdue’s campus in the 1960s as he worked to improve the treatment of Black students and increase the number of Black faculty. After retiring from professional football in 1973, he worked as a desegregation specialist for Philadelphia schools for 16 years.
Visitors at the service recalled how Keyes acted not just as a mentor for the student-athletes but as a role model for everyone. They also noted how he paved the way for many Black students and student-athletes.
Tiara Nibbs, Purdue alumna and long-time Keyes family representative, said whether someone knew Keyes for “three days, three weeks or 30 years,” they walked away a changed person.
State Rep. Sheila Klinker, who represents Lafayette, said she remembers watching Keyes lead the Boilermakers in the 1967 Rose Bowl. Years later, she said she tried to convince him to run for office.
“Nobody would run against Leroy Keyes. Give the vote to Leroy,” she said with a laugh, spoofing the chant from his college football career, “give the ball to Leroy!”
With the Boilermaker Xtra Special stationed in the corner and ‘70s soul playing in the background, friends, family, fans and athletes reflected on the life and impact of “The Golden Mr. Do-Everything.”
“(Purdue) was truly him,” Simpson said. “He was Leroy Keyes. He was black and gold. He knew how to make everyone feel like they were very important.”