William V. Keys, 82, of Cherry Hill, a former Philadelphia Electric Co. supervisor who underwent a heart transplant in 1990 and became a major advocate for organ donations, died Wednesday, May 26, at home.
After working nearly 30 years in the transportation division of Philadelphia Electric, now Peco Energy Co., Mr. Keys suffered a massive heart attack that forced him to retire earlier than expected.
His gall bladder was removed in 1989 and he was also hospitalized at that time with congestive heart failure. It was then that doctors put him on the transplant list.
In May 1990, he got the long-awaited phone call - a healthy 21-year-old heart was on its way from Hershey Medical Center to Temple University Hospital.
The heart fit perfectly into Mr. Keys' 62-year-old body. Members of the Keys family tried many times speak with the donor family but were unsuccessful. All they know is that the donor was a man who died of a gunshot wound.
Mr. Keys became a voice for organ donations. He worked with Boy Scout troops in South Jersey and spoke at churches and schools.
"He was very effective in bringing awareness," said Howard Nathan, president and CEO of the Gift of Life Donor Program in Philadelphia. "He understood the value of getting good publicity."
Mr. Keys was also a veteran of the National Kidney Foundation U.S. Transplant Games, a Summer Olympic-style competition for transplant recipients held every two years.
In the most recent games, in July 2008 in Pittsburgh, Mr. Keys was honored during the opening ceremony for being at 81 the oldest transplant athlete to participate. It was his seventh competition.
After he finished a swimming event, he got out of the pool to a standing ovation, Nathan said.
Mr. Keys was born and raised in Woodlynne and graduated from Collingswood High School in 1945.
He was a sailor in the Navy at the end of World War II. When he returned to the States he worked as an auto mechanic with hopes of going to college to study engineering, his wife, the former Alma Gluch, said.
When the Korean War began in 1951, the Army drafted Mr. Keys, who had married a week earlier. Mr. Keys spent three years in Korea in the Army's counterintelligence unit.
When he returned in 1953, he attended Drexel University's School of Engineering for about two years, his wife said.
In 1958, he landed a job with Philadelphia Electric and eventually became night supervisor of the transportation division, making sure the auto-mechanic and repair shop ran smoothly.
As a mechanic, Mr. Keys was fascinated with old cars. He also loved to read, travel, and, when his children were younger, go on camping expeditions.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Keys is survived by son William; daughter Amy Shaw; four grandchildren; and a brother.
A viewing will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, May 31, at Holy Eucharist Roman Catholic Church, 344 Kresson Rd., Cherry Hill. The funeral will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 1, at the church, followed by a Funeral Mass at 11 a.m.
Entombment will be in New St. Mary's Cemetery in Bellmawr.