Robert P. McKeever, 84, a tanker ship captain who spent most of his life at sea as a merchant marine, the owner of a maritime detective agency, and the head of a coal cogeneration firm, died May 14 of multiple systems atrophy, a neurological disease, at home in Center City.
Mr. McKeever grew up poor in East Falls; his father was a vegetable huckster and his mother told fortunes by reading tea leaves from the step of their rowhouse. The youngest of four children, Mr. McKeever, like his brothers, went to sea and worked on a tanker after dropping out of the 10th grade.
During World War II, Mr. McKeever joined the Merchant Marine and saw combat in the Pacific before being discharged in 1946.
When he was 23, Mr. McKeever earned a master's marine pilot license and became captain of his first ship. He commanded a tanker that transported salvage through the Panama and Suez Canals for Keystone Shipping Co., one of the largest independent tanker operators under the U.S. flag.
Mr. McKeever ended his shipping career with Keystone as senior vice president of shipping and as president of Keystone Cogeneration.
While at sea, Mr. McKeever was never without an animal. "He dressed his boxer in a captain's uniform and put him on the helm," said his wife of 20 years, Carla Morgan. "Bob rescued a sick cat and nursed it back to health on his ship. It turned out to be a puma, and he had to donate it to a zoo."
Mr. McKeever won a parrot in a card game and named it Hector the Garbage Collector. "The parrot sat on Bob's shoulder and swore in Spanish," his wife said.
In the 1970s, while still working for Keystone, Mr. McKeever purchased the Edward J. Ring Detective Agency and founded Reliance Security, both on Front Street. He employed more than 100 people, including moonlighting Philadelphia police officers. The firms provided security for businesses on the waterfront and for ships. He sold the agencies in 1993.
In the 1980s, Mr. McKeever started All Secure, a security firm which he sold in 1990 to his daughter, Kristin. She moved the company to Conshohocken where she employs more than 100 people.
"Bob was a generous man and considered himself the protector of his large family," his wife said. "He gave jobs to cousins, nephews, and other family members."
Mr. McKeever married Elois Longacre in 1943, and they raised three children before the marriage ended in 1983. He married Carla Morgan in 1988. She brought three daughters to the marriage.
Mr. McKeever and his wife moved to Cape May Beach in 1993, where his tie to the ocean was fishing, boating and walking his dog on the beach.
"For years before we bought a house in Cape May, we spent summers on our power boat eating the fish we caught, relaxing and playing cribbage. Bob hated to lose to me at cribbage," his wife said. "His trademark cocktail was scotch with a half of a peach floating in it."
In addition to his wife, daughter and former wife, Mr. McKeever is survived by another daughter, Kathie Rosse; a son, Kevin; stepdaughters Sarah, Becky and Maria Morgan; 12 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
A celebration of life will be at 3:30 p.m. May 29 at the Independence Seaport Museum, 211 S. Columbus Blvd., on Penn's Landing. His body was donated to science.
Donations may be made to the Wissahickon Hospice, 150 Monument Rd., Suite 300, Bala Cynwyd, Pa. 19004.