When James Keene III was a high school student in Washington, D.C., he was an usher for arts events, earning free admission....
That’s when he fell in love with opera, said daughter Ruth Ann Keene of San Anselmo, California.
Soon he felt the same way about the symphony and other musical endeavors, including cabaret performances in later years, though he had “zero musical talent,” she said.
Keene channeled that love into support for the arts in Omaha and elsewhere in Nebraska. He was past president and chairman of Opera Omaha, a founder of the Opera Omaha Council and a trustee of the Opera Omaha Foundation, earning the Opera Omaha Silver Rose Award. He also was founder of the Brownville Concert Series after obtaining a church in nearby Peru and moving it to the small southeast Nebraska river town.
“He just thought art made the world a better place,” his daughter said.
The local arts community is mourning his loss. Keene, 82, died last week of a heart attack right after attending a preview performance of Opera Omaha’s “Pagliacci.”
He recently had taken his family to his hometown, Williamsburg, Virginia, and attended a convention for cabaret promoters in New York City, “so he got to do all his favorite things in the last weeks before he died,” his daughter said.