Chamber Music Northwest The Old Church Strings Portland Oregon

Celebrating Ross McKeen

Friends of the beloved Portland arts figure, who died in March, will gather on Thursday at The Armory.


Friends of Ross McKeen will gather this Thursday at The Armory to memorialize his life, and considering how widely known and well-loved he was in Oregon theater and arts circles, it’s likely to be a good-sized crowd. McKeen, who for many years was managing director of Oregon Children’s Theatre, died on March 16 of this year, from pancreatic cancer.

Ross was smart, funny, and capable, an excellent administrator who connected readily and genuinely with all sorts of people, and who understood intuitively, it often seemed, the vital link between the administrative and creative sides of arts organizations. He had a wry wit, which came out in many ways, sometimes to ease a group through a sticky situation, and he had a splendid comic touch as a writer. He was a devout dog person, and devoted to his wife and life companion, Robin Remmick. And, yes, he played a mean guitar. The morning after he died, Remmick write this on Facebook: “My beloved husband and best friend, Ross McKeen, passed away yesterday morning, six months after receiving a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. He was a cherished son, father, brother, and uncle, and he was the kindest, gentlest, smartest and funniest person I have ever known. I can’t even begin to fathom how much I will miss him. He died with his best dog Kid by his side, with a serene and full heart.”

ArtsWatch gave this background in a story the day after McKeen’s death: “McKeen, in partnership with recently retired artistic director Stan Foote, built OCT to national prominence, and was known in Oregon arts circles as a smart and capable administrator, an excellent and generous mentor, and a man of keen humor. Before joining OCT in 2008 he had spent several years as a grant writer and fundraising consultant for several Portland arts organizations, served a year as the first manager of the Oregon Cultural Trust, and spent three years as general manager of Portland Center Stage. Ross understood the artistic side of the business (he was also a musician in a “swell cowboy band” called Bourbon Jockey), which helped him greatly as an administrator. He was a writer of great wit and erudition, as he revealed a dozen or so years ago, during the heyday of blogging, on the sites Mighty Toy Cannon and Culture Shock. McKeen and Oregon Children’s Theatre controversially parted ways last November.”

Ross was a storyteller, and you can expect stories about him to roll out at Thursday’s celebration. It’ll be at 4 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 12, at The Armory (home of Portland Center Stage), 128 N.W. 11th Ave., Portland. It’s free, everyone’s invited, masks are required, and there’ll be a reception afterwards.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."

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