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Howard B. Keck; Oil Magnate, Philanthropist


Howard B. Keck, an oil magnate and philanthropist who was chairman and president of the Superior Oil Co. and the W.M. Keck Foundation, has died. He was 83.

Keck, who had retired from active work on the foundation a year ago, died Saturday in Santa Monica.

The scion of Superior founder W.M. Keck Sr., Howard Keck worked from an early age in California oil fields along with his brother William and their father. Howard Keck succeeded his father as chairman of the independent oil and gas company in 1964.

He was known particularly for pioneering offshore drilling along the Gulf Coast. When court squabbling over his father's fortune sparked the sale of Superior in 1984, Keck led shareholders in securing the sale to Mobil Corp. for $5.7 billion.

Keck turned his energies to the foundation, which he headed from 1964 to 1995. The sole trustee of his father's charitable trust, he became particularly identified with the W.M. Keck Observatory on Hawaii's Mauna Kea.

During his tenure, the family's charitable trust grew from $250 million to $1.2 billion. In that period, the trust and foundation awarded $550 million in grants to science, medicine, higher education and the arts.

Keck was a trustee of Caltech when he became personally engrossed in the Keck Observatory and its internationally known Keck Telescope. The huge telescope was conceived by the University of California. But Caltech was brought into the project on the condition that Caltech raise some funding.

The self-educated Keck stepped in, offering to fully fund the telescope--but only if Caltech rather than UC controlled the project.

After months of negotiation, Keck agreed to a joint project with UC and Caltech sharing 90% of the telescope's viewing time.

Other Keck projects included use of free-electron laser technology in surgery, molecular studies to improve pharmaceuticals, precision measurement and observation of the ocean environment and studies in genetics.

Keck also bred and raced Thoroughbred horses. His stables produced Ferdinand, the 1986 winner of the Kentucky Derby.

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