BILOXI, Miss. (AP) — Former Biloxi, Mississippi, Mayor Jerry O'Keefe, who received the Congressional Gold Medal for his service as a fighter pilot in World War II, died Tuesday. He was 93.
A granddaughter, Justice O'Keefe Duhon, told The Associated Press that he died early Tuesday.
As a young Marine pilot, O'Keefe shot down seven Japanese airplanes, The Sun-Herald reported (http://bit.ly/2beknDB ).
He worked with his family's funeral business after World War II. In 1958, he bought Bradford Funeral Service and merged it with the family business to create Bradford-O'Keefe Funeral Home. He also founded Gulf National Life Insurance Co. in 1958.
O'Keefe was elected to the Mississippi House in 1959 and served four years, then was elected Biloxi mayor in 1973 and served eight years.
In 1976, he revoked a parade permit the Ku Klux Klan had secured. Klan members wound up being arrested, City Hall was vandalized and a cross was burned on O'Keefe's front lawn.
As mayor, he carried out a previous plan to transform Vieux Marche in downtown Biloxi into a pedestrian mall, where retail has since been supplanted by offices, nightclubs and other businesses. He also led annexation that expanded Biloxi northwestward and opened the city harbor to commercial shrimping.
He also was a major donor to community causes, including the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, partially named in his honor. He raised millions of dollars for the museum and for other charities.
The gold medal, the highest honor bestowed by Congress, was presented to him in June 2015.
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Information from: The Sun Herald, http://www.sunherald.com