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McKeon to Saddle Up for D.C. : Elections: Fresh from a 25th District victory, the co-owner of a Western wear chain explores committee assignments.

November 10, 1992|JEFF PRUGH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In 1991, after Klajic joined the council and was about to become the city's current mayor, McKeon said publicly he didn't think Klajic should serve as mayor. "She always refers to the council as 'you.' Never 'we,' " he said. "When people talk about being a team player, it does not mean that you agree on things, but that you deal with each other respectfully. I see a lack of that there."

Today, Klajic says she wishes McKeon well, adding: "We both have the best interests of this community at heart, but they're often different interests. Buck and I share family and religious values, but on environmental and political issues such as accepting PAC money, we've been very far apart. I've great respect for Buck because he's worked very hard."

As mayor, McKeon excelled at resolving disputes while also upholding Santa Clarita's reputation for colorful politicking. With his zest for red, he successfully pushed for red-striped buses. He also wears red ties and drives a red 1990 Corvette.

On occasion, he speaks conversational Spanish, which he learned as a young adult during his 2 1/2-year Mormon mission in New Mexico and Texas. "He once helped a Spanish-speaking woman make her point during a council meeting by asking her--in Spanish--to get closer to the microphone," City Manager George Caravalho recalled. "You couldn't help but be impressed by his stability and even-handedness."

Now, as McKeon grabs the lance again and grapples with broader causes and issues, some friends worry that he will find Capitol Hill's rough-and-tumble politicking too distasteful. After all, they contend, it's not as homespun as, say, starting up Santa Clarita's city government or the Valencia National Bank where he soon will step down as board chairman, or serving on the boards of the William S. Hart Union High School District (1979-87) and Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital (1983-87).

"Buck really doesn't like the schmoozing, the fund raising and the compromising that go with politics," said Allan Cameron, a community activist and Canyon Country resident. "In Washington, he'll run into 10 million times more of that."

However, Cameron said, McKeon's "strong work ethic" should enable him to ride out the storms and retain his bearings, "but he still doesn't like that politicking."

McKeon himself acknowledges those red flags.

"When you work with people in business and on the school board, the bank board and the hospital board, everything is judged on its merits," he said, relaxing between appointments at his Canyon Country campaign headquarters.

"I'm hoping that's the way it'll be in Congress. If I find out that it's just 'I do you a favor, you do me a favor' again and again, I think I can function under that, if that's the way it has to be. . . . But if it gets to the point where I feel I have to deal with corrupting influences, then I'll let somebody else do it."

Howard Philip McKeon was born Sept. 9, 1938, in Tujunga, where he grew up and was graduated from Verdugo Hills High School. He's the eldest of five brothers in a family where retailing etched a lasting impression on young Buck, who got his nickname at birth when his father called him "my little buckaroo."

Buck's father, the late Howard McKeon, and uncles teamed up as grocery retailers. Then, in 1963, his father opened the original Howard & Phil's (Phil is a derivative of Phyllis, Buck's mother, also deceased) on Soledad Canyon Road, back when Canyon Country, too, had only just begun.

By then, Buck McKeon had dropped out of Brigham Young University in Utah--just a few credits shy of graduating--to marry Patricia Kunz, also a BYU student, and help operate the family business. They had been introduced in a hotel elevator in Salt Lake City by their fathers--both longtime acquaintances as bishops in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Patricia McKeon left college, too, before she and Buck were married and started their large family. As Buck and his brothers expanded their clothing business, Patricia focused on child-rearing. "If you don't rear a responsible child, then the future is destroyed," she said.

With all except their youngest child, Tricia, no longer at home, Patricia now serves on the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital board, strongly supporting multiple roles for women. "You can rear children and work in the PTA and have a job. It's a lot to ask a woman to do all those things," she said, laughing. "But they're doing it!"

In fact, Patricia said, she hopes to return to college to finish work toward a degree--perhaps when Tricia, now a high school senior, attends college, so they could graduate together.

That's what Buck McKeon experienced in 1985, having taken courses at Cal State Northridge and in correspondence with BYU. There, at 46, he received a bachelor's degree in business production, graduating with his eldest daughter, Tamara, who received her bachelor's degree, and with her husband, who got his master's.

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