Power Couple Return to Chautauqua


New Institution trustee Kyle Keogh and his wife Liz Fox Keogh are committed Chautauquans and recent homeowners with deep Chautauqua and western New York roots. Their success in big business and Wall Street is matched by their commitment to family, values and institutions they cherish. We sat together on the large porch of their eight-bedroom house with its lake view. After some furniture rearrangement to accommodate a photograph, we settled comfortably into a conversation.

Your wedding was reported in The New York Times. That does not happen to everyone. Tell me about yourselves. Liz, could you go first?

Liz: We are celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary this year. I grew up in Buffalo, and was always aware of Chautauqua. We did not make a ritual of coming here in the summer, but my paternal grandmother lived in Angola, New York, her whole life and she would bring us here. She was a dancer. I remember several times attending dance performances with her on the grounds. I was intrigued. We mostly spent our summers over at Crystal Beach on Lake Erie in [Ontario] Canada. Later I learned that you could get the lake experience here, play tennis, which I love, get all the culture and enrichment that’s here, and especially now that we have [three] children, this is for us. We get more out of Chautauqua every time we come, and the kids have so many positive influences and experiences. They just think they’re going to camp; they don’t realize that they are getting all the other cultural exposure, too.

A couple of years ago, with the kids growing up, we asked ourselves what we wanted for the summer. We thought about buying a lake house near where we live in the Connecticut suburbs near New York City, or somewhere on the seashore, but our thoughts kept coming back here. It is a seven-hour drive, so it’s tough to come for a weekend. But we just decided to make this place our summer home, and we are delighted we did.

I believe you two met in college.

Liz: Yes, we were in the same year at Hamilton College, where there were around 450 students in our entering class. Kyle and I knew who each other were, but we didn’t really start dating until close to the end of our senior year. We both took a lot of economics classes, some of them together. I was an economics/government major, he was economics/public policy. I remember, Kyle, coming up to you one night at a party. You had a Chautauqua sweatshirt on. I had not realized there was such a deep Chautauqua connection for you. I won’t say that was what brought us together, but it certainly sparked a conversation.

Kyle: Hamilton College is a real tradition in my family. My dad went there. My brother and his wife went there.

Is either of you on their board of trustees yet?

Liz: No, although I’m my class president and we’re both very active in fundraising for the school. I’m planning our 25th reunion in a few years.

Kyle: Our deal is that for things we are passionate about, you can maybe get one of us to work on things, but not both.

Kyle, how about your Chautauqua roots?

Kyle: I grew up in Rochester, New York, not that far down the road from here. I guess my family heard about Chautauqua when I was about 3 years old. We started coming here to visit the next summer, and over the next several years, our stay had grown to a month. By the time I was 10, we were spending the whole summer here. We bought a cottage, over on Janes not too far from the Amphitheater. There were times when I would finish school for the year, and we’d finish loading up in the parking lot of my school and drive directly to Chautauqua.

I went through [Boys’ and Girls’] Club, I think through Group Eight. Then I started to work, and may have had every odd job you can have at Chautauqua. I did pots and pans at the Athenaeum Hotel, moved up to washing dishes and serving at Bellinger Hall, then I advanced to cleaning the bathrooms and doing maintenance at the Main Gate. I spent a couple of summers checking tickets at the Main Gate, then actually worked auditing the ticket totals there. I finished up at the Colonnade, totaling up attendance at the various events.

Some of those jobs are still pretty significant.

Kyle: Yeah, I can tell you, if someone thought you got the attendance wrong for an event, you sure heard about it.

I am amazed that you didn’t really connect at a small college until you were nearly ready to graduate.

Liz: Well, Kyle was president of his fraternity as a sophomore — really unusual for a sophomore to hold that job — and he was totally wrapped up in that world for that year. Then he took his junior year abroad. So we only really lived near each other our freshman and senior year. We were friends, but we didn’t really connect until a couple of weeks before graduation.

We both knew we were going to New York City, heading for jobs in investment banking. We were interviewing through the college career center, competing actually for some of the same spots, you know, at J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs. The job that I really, really wanted was the one that Kyle was given at J.P. Morgan. And so, at graduation, my father, who at 6 feet 4 inches is a rather imposing, formal fellow…

A commanding presence?

Liz: You could say that. He’s an attorney, pretty serious guy. Kyle and I had been dating for all of three weeks at that point.

Kyle: Maybe a month.

Liz:  So I wanted to introduce my parents to my boyfriend. My dad said, ‘OK, nice to meet you, Kyle Keogh. All I know about you is that you stole my daughter’s job.’ My father probably thought, ‘This isn’t going to last any longer than her other boyfriends. No need for politeness.’ But this boyfriend lasted.

Kyle: My father-in-law was the attorney for Dunlop Tire in Buffalo. He was a pretty imposing figure. We’re pretty relaxed with each other now.

Liz, where did you wind up working?

Liz: I got a similar job at Chase. We used to joke about how different the cultures at J.P. Morgan and Chase were. Then a few years later the firms merged.

Kyle: We lived in Manhattan for a year of dating, then our first year of marriage, then out to Bronxville for more space, then we both went to the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. We applied to Tuck married, studied there married and we’re still married. And we’re active for Tuck, too.

Then back to New York?

Liz: Yes, but for different kinds of jobs. I had soured on the corporate life at investment banking firms. I looked at the women higher-ups there and they just weren’t role models for me. There was very little work-life balance in their lives. We knew we wanted to start a family reasonably soon, so I moved in a different direction.

It’s funny. Most of our friends went to business school to get into finance or investment banking. We were like, ‘Nope, we’ve lived that life, no more.’ I went into marketing with Kraft and other companies. Then I got pregnant with twins and I haven’t gone back to the active workforce.

There’s definitely still a pull in that direction, though. As the kids get older, I wonder what I could do that would keep me active and engaged, but still let me be home when I needed to be for the kids. I don’t want to outsource the raising of my kids. Kyle’s and my mother were both stay-at-home moms.   

OK, back to our careers: Kyle took a job in consulting at McKinsey and Company, and then moved to a startup in Princeton, New Jersey. It’s a beautiful town, with the draw of the university, like Chautauqua in some ways. But with the twins, we didn’t get out much. And Princeton was full of people who had lived there for generations; it was hard to find newcomers like us. Where we now live, in Connecticut, is much more open and welcoming.

Kyle: With kids at Chautauqua, and the things we have been doing, we have been able to meet lots of interesting people here.

We have heard the demographic is older here. Well, presuming that is true, why is that a bad thing? People are living longer, living healthier longer, and they may have the time and resources to enjoy and support Chautauqua. They can potentially come here for longer periods. Maybe some stay for the entire season. I remember very well coming here for the whole summer when I was much younger. The world works differently now, so that pattern has changed.

Liz, you must be involved with the kids’ schools.

Liz: Yes. And this year they are all in the same school, so I’m going to jump in there. I’m involved in the town where we live, too.

Did you move to the suburbs when the kids came along?

Liz: No, we actually moved to where we now live after business school. We love [New York City], but we realized it kind of sucks the life out of us. As we get a little older, we think maybe we might get an apartment there at some point. Best of both worlds, perhaps.

Kyle: I love the week in the city. But it’s sometimes hard for me to relax. And on Saturday mornings, if you’re in the city, there’s an energy there, and it’s contagious, hard to resist. Sometimes you need to resist, though. Here, in Chautauqua, or in the suburbs where we live, that’s much easier.

Liz mentioned McKinsey, and the startup in Princeton. Then what?

Kyle: That startup was a small telecom company. The market was volatile, and it didn’t do so well. But it was an interesting experience, going from a consulting firm where you were thinking about strategy to a situation where you were saying, ‘We need to make these numbers work every week.’ I left to go to IBM for a couple of years, and now I have been with Google for nine years. It is a great company. You can do a lot of really interesting things.

What do you do at Google?

Kyle: I started working on selling advertising to the telecom industry, then switched to Google Fiber, trying to bring high-speed internet to America.

There might be some work in that area right here on the grounds. You could be a hero.

Kyle: There are infrastructure issues here, as in a lot of places. Progress is coming everywhere. Might take a bit of time. I have noticed that you do have people with different preferences here. There are folks who just want to be connected, and others like me, this afternoon and Monday, who need to seriously hunker down and work.

But I also make time for softball. I have played softball here in Chautauqua, for the Arthritics, over many years. I’m not great. Persistent maybe. I’m usually in the outfield, as far as possible from the defensive action.

Four or five years ago the board asked me to do a special project. It gave me an opportunity to think about things here, from the perspective of, ‘How do you do that here?’ I told them I’d be interested in serving on the board at some point.

Liz? What’s ahead for you here?

Liz: I’m focusing on the kids, but there are things here that interest me. The Women’s Club, for example, does a lot of interesting and worthwhile things. There are charitable groups that do important work. But this is really our first extended summer here for more than a week or so. I’m kind of sitting back a bit, looking things over. But we will definitely be involved. There’s no doubt.

You like to give back.

Liz: We do. We think our story is a good story. We have been too busy living it, I guess, to reflect too much about it so far. I do get mired in the daily details. We do very much appreciate what we have.

Kyle: Yeah, we are grateful. But there is always the next goal out there. At Chautauqua, we are able to do things I never thought I’d be able to do when I worked here as a kid. And I’ve been amazed that some people travel quite a distance to enjoy Chautauqua. We have friends who come from California.

Liz:  We have developed great friends from the Charlottesville, Virginia area. They have absolutely no family connections here at all. They heard about Chautauqua, said it seemed too good to be true, then came six or seven years ago for the first time. We met them because our kids got to know each other in Club. Now they’re coming up to stay with us for a week. Chautauqua needs more exposure to people like that who are willing to take a shot and come here without the family ties.

(Photo by Eslah Attar.)


The author John Ford

John Ford is in his ninth year with the Daily. He reports on general news, does feature reporting and writes the weekly Chautauqua Conversations column. A wire service reporter for United Press International prior to embarking on a career as a foreign service officer with the Department of State, he currently writes a regular column on American politics and foreign relations for one of the two principal daily newspapers in Nassau, Bahamas.