Invited to throw out a pitch at an Asheville Tourists minor league baseball game, Patsy Rouzer Keever, a lanky fifty-six-year-old, takes aim. Her fans in the stands wave "Keever for Congress" signs and scream support for their favorite Democrat. She winds up and releases. The ball bounces, twice, before reaching the catcher at home plate, which prompts the fans to scream all the more enthusiastically.
The pitch was good exposure arranged by her campaign manager, Betsy Keever, who also happens to be her youngest daughter. Since May 2004, the two have been galloping around North Carolina's 11th District, shaking hands, speaking to civic clubs, and raising money for Patsy's campaign. "People say, 'Now you get to tell your mom what to do,' " says Betsy. "But it's not that way. It's more of a partnership. We both understand what our new roles are and play them."
On November 2, the retired middle-school teacher faces seven-term Republican incumbent Charles Taylor. Though Keever is a veteran commissioner for Asheville's Buncombe County, she is a rookie at running for national office. The pundits have her pegged as a long shot but, by early September, Keever and her supporters had out-raised Taylor's campaign for three quarters running. They had also assembled a network of 600-plus volunteers, who were busy making phone calls, knocking on doors, and arranging fund-raisers.
Duke was a natural choice for Patsy Rouzer: Her maternal grandfather, the late Gordon Carver '15; her mother, Nancy Carver Alexander '42; and her uncle, Gordon Carver Jr. '47, captain of the Rose Bowl football team, preceded her. Patsy majored in education, joined Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, and met her husband, John Keever Jr. '67, B.H.S. '83, on a blind date. In her junior year, she took part in the Silent Vigil that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, "the first time I stood up for something I believed in," she recalls.
Keever won her first commissioner's seat in 1992 and was re-elected in 1996. Just after she won a third term in 2000, her husband was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer, most likely a result of exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. Two years later, after twenty-five years of teaching, Patsy took early retirement to stay home and care for Johnny. He died on April 30, 2003.
After months of mulling her next move, Patsy decided she wouldn't run for chair of the county commission after all, as Johnny had urged. Instead, she'd run for U.S. Congress. She asked Betsy to be her campaign manager.
While at Duke, Betsy had been an English major and a track team walk-on. She went on to set seven individual and team records in the outdoor 800-meters, the indoor 1,000-meters, and several team relays.
After a year in Bolivia and four years in San Francisco doing nonprofit work, Betsy moved home, where she helped her mother care for her father until his death. She had no sooner moved to New York City to be near her boyfriend when she received her mom's invitation. "When she decided to run, I had no doubt I wanted to help," says Betsy.
Patsy says she is pleased to have Betsy at her side: During the difficult, final months of Johnny's life, "having Betsy here was what gave me my sanity." Together, the two women developed the Evening Jell-O Ritual--playing with their dessert. "We definitely needed a release, and colorful, jiggly things helped," says Betsy. Both say that this shared goofy sense of humor has helped them in the campaign, as well.
Whether Patsy wins or loses, Betsy says, she's glad she could be there to help. "How often does your mom run for Congress?"
Patsy Rouzer Keever '69 and Betsy Keever '96
November 30, 2004