It’s no secret that racing legend Ed Keelan didn’t want his first daughter to follow in his footsteps as a racetrack owner/operator.
Judging from comments made at the National Greyhound Association banquet Wednesday night, Ed Keelan was old school, tough and stubborn.
That tells a lot about his daughter, Karen Keelen, who not only went against her father’s wishes to enter the business, but was also the first female track operator to ever be honored at an NGA banquet, which was Wednesday night.
Roy Berger, formerly of Dairyland Greyhound Park, joked that Ed Keelan was a proud father on June 12, 1956. Only he was expecting a son, “Kevin,” to continue the Keelan family legacy. That was the day Karen was born. His next child turned out to be another daughter, Kathy.
“Two daughters did not stop Eddie Keelan and he wound up to be a pioneer in our businesses. Professionally Eddie Keelan was my mentor, my inspiration. I got to thinking how much Ed and Karen had in common professionally,” he said.
“The absolute best defining moment for any child is when a parent looks at them square in the eye and says ‘I’m proud of you.’ Karen, look up. Your dad is watching, smiling and saying ‘I am really proud of you.’”
Tim Leuschner, of Jacksonville Racing, said back then greyhound racing was a man’s world.
“In those days women weren’t allowed to be mutuel clerks,” he said. ‘They could work the ice cream stand but not anything important. Karen’s father, Eddie, was an icon in racing and even he felt that there was no place in racing for women. And Karen proved him wrong, and everyone else.”
Leuschner said he was working at Lincoln Greyhound Park when sometimes patrons “became too much to handle we gave them a break by baring them from the track for 30 days. Naturally they would head over to Plainfield.”
Keelan was managing Plainfield Greyhound Parks at the time.
“These were customers that were known to break the glass at the finish cabinets, throw drinks on other customers, kick in the displays and use every profanity known to man. Karen always handled those situations with skill and class. She never backed down in those years and she doesn’t back down today.”
“Karen has given so much to the industry,” said Eric Wilson of Gulf Greyhound Park. “She takes care of the greyhounds and they are always in her corner on everything she does.”
Dan Luciano of Phoenix worked at Plainfield Greyhound Park just as Karen started working there. He said she had been committed to greyhounds and animals all of her life.
“Her involvement with AGC (American Greyhound Council), AGTOA (American Greyhound Track Operators Association), WGRF (World Greyhound Racing Federation) and as a board member of the (Greyhound) Hall of Fame, she has definitely made a difference. She was always doing the right thing for the greyhounds, as everybody knows. There are remarkably few people that you meet in life where you can say you are a better person for having known them. Her father was one of them. I’m here to tell you Karen is as well.”
Marsha Kelly, of Kelly Media Counsel, NGA board member Fred Fulchino and kennel owner Randy Finegan also spoke on her behalf.
Keelan said when she was called about being the banquet honoree she thought it was a joke. She said she figured no one would attend.
“If I hadn’t gone to that meeting today, I would have been at the Eisenhower Library by myself,” she said.
The banquet was scheduled for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library but it was closed because of the partial shutdown of the federal government. The semi-annual banquet was moved to the Abilene Civic Center.
“I am really honored to the upmost degree,” she said. “I cannot thank you enough. Without you and without the dogs there would be none of us.
“My house is filled with greyhound statues and pictures and everyday I look at them and think if it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”
Keelan’s first recollection of greyhound racing was going to Raynham Greyhound Park with her father when she was 4 and 5 years old. He was part owner and track executive.
She spent two years studying at Boston College and received a Bachelor of Arts in social psychology from the University of New Hampshire.
When Seabrook Greyhound Park opened, co-owned by her father, she visited that track often.
In an article in The Greyhound Review, Keelan told author Leslie Wootten she recalled telling her father she wanted to become involved in the business.
“His answer was no,” Keelan said. “ I don’t think he ever thought of me getting into the racing business because women had never been visibly involved in racetrack management or kennel operations. It was a man’s environment, and he just didn’t think it was the right place for his daughter.”
But eventually Keelan found a niche at Foxboro horse track, also co-owned by her father.
“So, I went to Eddie Andelman, my father’s Foxboro partner, and talked to him about my interest,” Keelan told Wootten. “I told him how much I wanted to work at Foxboro and that I wanted to learn every job. He hired me against my father’s wishes.”
“I think he (Ed) finally realized I had a passion for the business and the animals,” Keelan said. “I was determined.”
She worked at Foxboro for two years. She went on to be the assistant manager at Plainfield Greyhound Park. In 1985, she became general manager and executive vice-president of Plainfield Greyhound Park.
When her father died in 2007, Keelan succeeded him as president of Seabrook and vice president of Rockingham Park, which is a historic horse track in Salem, N.H. Both currently operate as simulcast centers. She also owns an inn in Nantucket.