Thomas W. Keating

Building the Foundation for BIO5

By Romi Carrell Wittman 

If you happen to stroll across the University of Arizona and venture just north of Speedway Boulevard, you’ll encounter an imposing and elegant red brick building with walls of windows and a large white metal shade sail of sorts.

Within walking distance of Banner University Medical Center and part of the health sciences campus, the Thomas W. Keating Bioresearch Building has four floors and 177,000 square feet of state-of-the-art research laboratories, core facilities and collaborative meeting spaces. With the support of cutting-edge equipment and flexible design, scientists are able to tackle virtually any type of challenging research project.

Completed in 2006, the Keating Building, as it’s often called, is the home of the BIO5 Institute, an organization with a three-fold mission of excellence in basic and translational research, interdisciplinary collaboration and commercialization, and education outreach and training.

BIO5 and the Keating Building are jewels in the UArizona research crown, but neither might have become reality had it not been for the vision and dedication of the man for whom the building is named: Thomas W. Keating. 

Keating has long been involved with UArizona – as a student to volunteer to donor back to student again. 

As a young man, Keating spent six months active duty in the National Guard after high school graduation. After returning from Fort Bliss, Tex., he attended Menlo College in Atherton, Calif. “I was thinking I might be Stanford material,” he said with a chuckle. “I was not.”

After his self-described poor performance at Menlo College, Keating thought a different school might be the answer. He enrolled at UArizona. “It was a disaster,” he admitted. “I left in 1962 to go work at my family’s company.” 

Keating would go on to build a highly successful 38-year career at that company, American Protective Services, started on break-bulk (non-containerized) cargo ships in port. Its non-maritime business eventually grew to 19,000 employees in 35 states and was sold in 2000 to Securitas of Sweden, the world’s largest security provider. 

Knowing Keating was not a man to retire, friend and UArizona grad Matt Noble reached out to Keating to encourage him to get involved with the Kappa Sigma fraternity, Keating jumped at the opportunity. He attended his first homecoming in 1987, and Keating and his wife, Irene – or “Reenie” – haven’t missed one since. Keating soon began volunteering for UArizona in a number of capacities. 

Since then, Keating’s involvement with UArizona has been seemingly limitless. He chaired the BIO5 Business Advisory Board as well as the Alumni Association board of directors. He has served on the UA Foundation board of trustees for the past 20 years and was the chair, and continues to devote his time and resources to the colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Social and Behavioral Sciences and Honors, as well as the BIO5 Institute, the KEYS Research Internship, athletics, campus life, dance, Alumni Plaza and Women’s Plaza.

In 1996, after living part-time in Tucson, Keating and his wife decided to purchase a second home here. They decided to take the plunge after Keating sat down and calculated just how much time they were spending in Tucson versus Alameda, Calif., their primary home. “I made three columns,” he said. “One for nights slept in Alameda, Tucson, or someplace else. I charted the whole year and discovered we’d spent more time in Tucson than anywhere else.” 

Once here, Keating decided to enroll at UArizona to complete his degree. “My kids have their degrees and I had my 35 units,” he explained. “I wanted to graduate before I was 80.”

He did. In 2000, at the age of 58, he walked across the stage to accept his diploma for a Bachelor of Science in agriculture.

“It was a great period of time in my life, and I really, really value that,” he said. “College-level kids are a joy to be around. They’re very open and accepting and they made my life a joy coming back to school. That’s one of the primary reasons for us staying. If you volunteer for UArizona, you always want the job where you have face time with the students.”   

As an older student, Keating was more aware of the things he needed to do to be successful. “I learned very quickly that sitting in the front of class is a mistake because you can’t constantly turn around to see who is answering,” he said. “Sit in the fifth row. That helps you find the smart kids so you can study with them.” 

During his time as a student the second time around, Keating became close with Eugene Sander, then dean of the College of Agriculture. Keating believed in Sander’s vision so much that he made an anonymous gift to the college for the purpose of building a new research lab with more space. 

Later, Keating encountered Peter Likins, then UArizona’s president, at an Alumni Association meeting. “In this particular meeting, (Likins) talked about his vision for collaborative research and the need for a new building for that,” Keating said. 

Likins told the group the sum he was trying to raise. “I later went to him and told him I had good news.” Keating said. “I had already given half his goal anonymously to Dean Sander for a similar purpose, and offered to match that amount with a pledge for the balance.”

Following many conversations amongst UArizona leadership and Keating, the Keatings’ original donation was used for construction of the unique building that now bears his name. 

“It was an extraordinary experience,” Keating said. 

The Keatings are both still active in the UArizona community, so much so they had to scale back a bit. “We had great basketball tickets for 21 years, but we gave them up because we could never do anything else for the first quarter of each year but basketball,” he laughed.

Likins said Keating’s contributions to UArizona and, more specifically BIO5, are immeasurable. “Interdisciplinary research was in the air. The climate was right to create BIO5, and that’s important because not every university has that,” Likins said. “It was deep in the bones of the institution, but we needed leadership and Tom Keating provided that. He helped us get across the finish line.”

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