BIG ACHIEVEMENTS: Phyllis and John O'Keefe at a special event recognising Somerset region's longest-serving Justices of the Peace hosted by the Member for Nanango, Deb Frecklington last Thursday.
BIG ACHIEVEMENTS: Phyllis and John O'Keefe at a special event recognising Somerset region's longest-serving Justices of the Peace hosted by the Member for Nanango, Deb Frecklington last Thursday. Meg Bolton

A long stint of service but a longer time in love

IF you ask John O'Keefe, the key to happiness in life is connecting with others - and that's exactly what he has done during the 93 years of his life.

Just last week Mr O'Keefe celebrated 70 years of marriage with his wife, Phyllis O'Keefe, which is an achievement in itself, but he was also congratulated on 60 years as a Justice of the Peace.

Mr O'Keefe was first appointed as a JP in 1952 in the town of Woy Woy, NSW, where he grew up.

What started as a way to assist others, being a JP soon became a staple in Mr O'Keefe's life connecting him with the many people he helped.

"It gives me a great satisfaction to be able to help people,” he said.

Mr O'Keefe provided a vital service to the locals in NSW for three years, although his service in the blue state was just the tip of the iceberg.

After moving to Queensland in 1955, Mr O'Keefe soon began to miss his volunteer work and, by 1958, he was appointed a JP in Queensland.

He has lost count of the number of documents he has witnessed but said they all played an important role in his service as a JP.

"I would say 99.9 per cent of people walk away and thank you most intently, it's lovely,” Mr O'Keefe said.

Along with the regular service of a JP which includes signing and witnessing documents, Mr O'Keefe has been a person to confide in for many years.

"I think it's important because lots of things happen in life and we all need someone to go and talk to,” he said.

It's not a one-way trans- action, Mr O'Keefe often invites people to bring their documents to his home.

"I get people to come to our place, if I'm going to be part of them, they're going to be part of me,” Mr O'Keefe said.

At a special event, acknowledging long-serving JPs in the region, Member for Nanango Deb Frecklington said the service Jack provided was phenomenal.

"A JP is a volunteer within a community that actually does a great deal of service, particularly in country areas where it's not easy to get documents witnessed,” Mrs Frecklington said.

"I really value the work these volunteers do.”

While Mr O'Keefe said he wouldn't provide another 60 years of service, he hopes to do another five or six for the Esk community.

The O'Keefes have deep roots in Esk, with connections with multiple auxiliaries and the RSL- which is the key to contentment in small towns.

"The secret to success in this town is being a part of the community,” he said.

"If you're going to sit on your tail at home, you're not going to enjoy it but if you become a part of the town you'll find they're the greatest people of all time and they're there to help you the whole time.”

Being acknowledged by community members brings joy to the 93-year-old, who said having the respect of others was tremendous.

According to Mr O'Keefe you couldn't pay his wife, Phyllis, to go back to NSW, the couple both having great love for the town and those who reside in it.

Although their big love in life is, of course, each other. They met the night Mr O'Keefe finished serving in the war.

Mr O'Keefe was only 18 when he was enlisted in the air force, saying he enjoyed serving in the South Pacific until he was 22, and then began his life with Phyllis.

The couple married in 1948 and have been happy since.

The O'Keefes credited their marital success to following simple rules.

"Never go angry, if you've had an argument settle it before you go to bed,” Mrs O'Keefe said. "It's like a business, it's give and take, it's not all one sided, you've got to respect the other.”

Mr O'Keefe said being respectful was vital to both marriage and friendships.

"You can only get back what you give out, if you give out respect, you'll get it back,” he said.

The couple had three children, and now have three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Mr O'Keefe said he used the morals his parents taught him to raise his own children.

"My mum and dad lived properly, they lived honestly,” he said. "We had a hard upbringing but thankful for every minute of it because it made you have the right perception of what you should do.”

At "93 and three months” Mr O'Keefe's sense of humour is very much intact, he said being alive was the best thing.

"I've always said I would hate to wake up and find myself dead,” he said.

Despite still barracking for the blues in the State of Origin, Mr O'Keefe loves his life in Queensland and said it was his family of which he was most proud.