In good hands with O'Keeffe

For many of us, the only interaction we have with the University of Lethbridge security force is on the wrong end of a parking violation, when in fact Security and Parking is so much more. For John O'Keeffe, who has seen action in some of the world's most troubled regions, the ability to handle this political landmine comes from experience with the real thing.

"It's too bad that a lot of the good things we do get forgotten when we hand out a parking citation," O'Keeffe, the University of Lethbridge's new director of Security and Parking, says with a laugh.
"I would like to keep reminding people we are a community-based service, that's my big goal, for us not to be seen as just a parking service."

O'Keeffe comes to the University fresh out of the British military, where he served for 23 years. Stationed at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Suffield the last four years, he retired from active service to seek a permanent home in Canada.

He assumes the role left by Randy Joseph, and while heading up a military police detachment might not seem parallel to running a university security office, O'Keeffe says the two organizations are strikingly similar.

"There are many parts of this job and the university life that are very similar to military life," he explains. "Here, we are in a hierarchical structure with someone at the top who is the boss and there are different organizations below, all with their own responsibilities. The military is very much the same.
"Our deans and professors are in the officer ranks and the others are almost like the soldiers, working in the background making things happen."

A non-commissioned soldier, O'Keeffe joined the military as a 16-year old for what he expected would be a three-year term. It turned into a career that took him to every continent on the planet but Antarctica. His tours included highlight postings in Hong Kong, Kenya and Australia, as well as numerous stops in Europe. He also served on United Nations forces in locales such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and Northern Ireland, eventually retiring on pre-selection to the position of Regimental Sergeant Major, the highest rank for a non-commissioned soldier.

"I've seen my fair share of good and bad," he says.

Reviewing the campus emergency response plan is a key priority for O'Keeffe, but just learning the unique terminology of the job, as well as introducing himself to the many units on campus has dominated his time.

"I still have to establish myself within the organization and get people to understand how I work," he says. "The biggest thing I've got to do is convince people that I'm not Randy and we have our different workings. We both strive toward the end result but we're going to probably do it different ways."

He admits his interview for the University posting was the first of his life and was not exactly sure how it should be approached. Walking away he felt good, and not just about his performance.

"I remember thinking it would be upsetting if I didn't get the job but more than anything, I'd be really disappointed if I didn't get to work with the people I'd met," he says.


• O'Keeffe's wife Amanda is a paralegal and they own a two-year old German shepherd, Ben.

• He has been commuting to the U of L daily from Medicine Hat.

• O'Keeffe was born in Sheffield, a city and metropolitan borough of South Yorkshire, England. Sheffield gained its reputation for its steel production in the 19th century.

• Stationed at CFB Suffield, O'Keeffe's military police looked over a base considered the largest in the Commonwealth at 2,962 square kilometers.

• O'Keeffe on staying in Canada upon retiring from the military, "If I was to tie it up into one thing it would be the quality of life. I think everybody has opportunity within Canada and that's the biggest plus for me."