BJ Keith followed in the footsteps of her father, Harold Keith, Electrical Contractor by trade, but truly a genius in his own time (master architect, engineer, carpenter and investor). Like her father, she designed and helped build her own home. Her California Craftsman Home was so beautiful, that ARCHITECTURAL BUNGALOW MAGAZINE, Issue 51, features her home in an 8-page spread, called “An Artist’s Bungalow”.
My own daughter was one of 55 students out of 3700 applicants who was accepted into Cornell University’s undergraduate program for architecture. I know that she is who she is in part due to the inspiration and example of my mother, BJ Keith. She mirrors her grandmother in drive, temperament, personality and individuality, an amazing development considering that she is the only one of the granddaughters who lives a distance away and has limited contact as a result. So, perhaps there is something to the statement, “it’s in the genes.” BJ continued her father’s legacy with her own talent but pays it forward with her granddaughter. What BJ doesn’t know is that her granddaughter, Mireya’s college application essay was an ode to her grandmother.
“It was my grandmother, however, who is my flagship for strength. It is she who has had the most profound influence upon my life. Under the guise of advantage, my grandmother was a debutante, a high school dropout, pregnant and married at 15, the mother of four children for the next 20 years. She lived under the shadow of men for half her life, set aside her many talents, gifts and dreams. At 30, she went back to school, received her AA, then her BA, afterwhich she went on to obtain her MA in Fine Art. After completing the program, the college refused to confer the degree upon her because they said she “couldn’t possibly have done the work--that it was too good, too professional.”
Momentarily devastated, but not paralyzed, she immediately joined a metal sculpture house as an artist, and from there worked her way up to becoming their top designer and then Art Director, her work now bringing in a majority of the revenue for the entire company. She refused to let the preconceived notions and egos of those around her squelch her creativity and drive. I was indignant, nay, furious, when I discovered this at one family dinner, but my grandmother was philosophical about it and just smiled at me with a wink. “Success is the best revenge,” she said, although I have never heard a revengeful sentiment leave her lips. At 58 she bought her first house, tore it down, redesigned it in the Craftsman tradition and earned herself an 8-page spread in American Bungalow Magazine. To my aspiring architect’s mind, this only solidified her hero status. “Don’t wait for life to be fait,” she told me once. “Command respect by never sacrificing your talent or your integrity.” She still does this at age 63. No matter who told her she couldn’t do something or wasn’t good enough, she ignored them and kept moving forward. I learned this tenacity and sense of self from my grandmother.”
(Excerpt from my daughter’s Cornell School of Architecture application essay about her grandmother, BJ Keith.)
A fitting ode to an extraordinary grandmother, woman and artist -- my mother, BJ Keith.
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