William Myron Keck II, grandson of legendary wildcatter, dies at 72

Keck's family fortune sprang from Superior Oil, which his grandfather founded in the 1920s

William Myron Keck II, the grandson of legendary wildcatter William Keck Sr. who helped lead two family philanthropies, died May 7 at his Los Angeles home after a long illness. He was 72.

His death was confirmed by his wife, Nicole Grace Keck.

Keck's family fortune sprang from Superior Oil, which his grandfather founded in the early 1920s after striking oil in Huntington Beach and built into the nation's largest independent oil producer. The senior Keck established the W.M. Keck Foundation, one of the nation's largest philanthropic organizations, which has funded such major medical and scientific endeavors as the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii and the Keck School of Medicine at USC.

Keck was a director and vice president of his grandfather's foundation and president of the W.M. Keck Jr. Foundation, named for his father.

Although the Keck family name appears on many prominent institutions, Keck himself "hated the spotlight," his wife said. "He wanted to stay simple."

He had a strong interest in public policy and became a major benefactor of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C., where he endowed a chair.

"He wanted to name it not for himself or anything Keck but for Reginald Jones, the famous CEO of GE before Jack Welch," said C. Fred Bergsten, the institute's founding director. "It was quite a statesman-like thing to do. He idolized Reg Jones."

An only child, Keck was born in Los Angeles on Dec. 16, 1941, and grew up in Beverly Hills with the children of Hollywood's elite. His wife said he was particularly fond of telling stories about getting kicked in the shins during dance lessons with Fred Astaire's daughter, whose toes he often stepped on.

After graduating from the exclusive Black-Foxe Military Institute, he attended Menlo College in Atherton until his father, unhappy with Keck's lackluster grades, insisted he transfer to USC. There he earned a bachelor's degree in finance in 1964 and a master's in business administration in 1966.

He worked as an assistant cashier at United California Bank for several years before joining Coalinga Corp., a small oil and gas production company started by his father. After his father's death in 1982, Keck ran the company.

He was a member of the USC Board of Trustees for 32 years, until 2011, helping to advocate for federal funding of science and technology centers.

Besides his wife, he is survived by three children from a previous marriage, William, Theodore and Stephen.

elaine.woo@latimes.com

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