Entertaining real-life stories with valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life
Entertaining and compelling real-life stories with valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life. The author is successful business, real estate, and media entrepreneur Dick Kazan.
Published on May 12th, 2015

Kathleen O'Keefe: She quit business for a remarkable life of public service.

Kathleen O'Keefe
Kathleen O'Keefe  

Intending to build a lucrative business career, Kathleen graduated from Harvard University in the early 1980's and joined a Boston technology firm.

But she discovered that making big money did not appeal to her, helping others did.

In 1987 Kathleen quit the corporate world and joined the Asia Foundation in San Francisco.

This led her to Thailand and Malaysia, helping Vietnamese refugees, many of whom had risked their lives on rickety boats on the open sea, hoping to resettle in the U.S.

For five years Kathleen devoted herself to their cause, helping to free them from the camps in which they were held to reunite them with their families or with sponsors in the U.S.

Then in 1992, Kathleen met a new challenge in Cambodia.

Cambodia in 1992 was still struggling to recover from the Cambodian genocide of Cambodians committed by its former government, the Khmer Rouge (1975 – 1979).

Kathleen and her then husband Michael Hayes were determined to help Cambodia become a stable nation, one conducted with international governance standards.

To achieve this they began The Phnom Penh Post, Cambodia's first independent newspaper in 17 years.

Kathleen and Michael housed the newspaper in their rented home. But conditions in Cambodia were primitive.

There were frequent power outages, no computer systems nor people who had ever used them, the house needed to be rewired, a publishing process needed to be established, as did ad sales to generate income.

Reporters needed to be hired, and a news room established.

Having little money, Kathleen handled all these tasks, obtaining and repairing old computers and teaching people to use them, obtaining, repairing and installing a printing press, a backup power generator and creating functional phone lines.

She recruited and/or trained reporters and established a newspaper distribution system, complete with ad sales.

For the next 11 years, the Post was Kathleen's labor of love.

But as the Post became well established, she then tackled other Cambodian needs, working for human rights groups and for local community alliances.

Later Kathleen worked in Africa on a child-protection program and trained radio station personnel in Somaliland.

But late in 2013, Kathleen returned home to the Boston area, where in 2014 at the age of 54 she passed away from pancreatic cancer.

Helping the Vietnamese boatpeople and founding the Phnom Penh Post, which helped to secure freedom of the press in Cambodia, were great accomplishments.

But her family described her life best on her Boston Globe obituary when they asked people not to send flowers or gifts but to "please carry out acts of kindness to others, in memory of Kathleen and in keeping with her spirit and nature."

Editor's Note: To learn more about Kathleen and read some of her many tributes, click here. For additional information on Kathleen, click here and here. To learn more about the Cambodian genocide, click here.

In the next KazanToday: A working man who surprisingly donated a fortune to skid row charities.

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