Commissioned by Woodlawn Memorial Park, Remembrance Day Service Nov. 11, 2016
By Susan Farrelly
Serving his Country proudly as an Engineer Officer in the Canadian Army for 26 years, LCol Rodney Keller was especially proud of his tours in Bosnia and Afghanistan, along with his time as Base Commander of CFB Suffield. He was awarded a Canadian Forces Decoration and was given a Bronze Star from the US Army, as a result of serving alongside US soldiers who were impressed with Rod’s heroism and leadership in the field. Upon retiring from the Army, Rod returned to his hometown and joined the City of Guelph as the General Manager of Operations.
Loving husband and father to three children, Rod was hard-working, conscientious, community-minded, and believed strongly in looking after people and doing the right thing. He was a Scout leader and a faithful parishioner of St. George’s Church. He loved sports and had an amazing knack for sports statistics, including the Blue Jays, and he especially loved the Guelph Storm for which he was a season ticket-holder. His greatest passion was golfing, and the Guelph Country Club could be described as his happiest place on earth.
Rodney Keller was born on November 25, 1966 in Kitchener, Ontario, to Henny Brydges and Frank Keller. Henny was an immigrant from Denmark and Frank was from Germany, and they met at a dance in Kitchener. Frank was a Carpenter and Henny was a stay at home mom, who took on some smaller part time jobs to help make ends meet. It was 18 months after Rodney was born that the Keller family welcomed a daughter, Susan (now Harris).
When Rod was six years old, Frank and Henny separated and Henny moved to Guelph with the kids to be closer to her brother. In 1979, Henny remarried a man named Earl Brydges, which rounded out the family to include two step-brothers, Rob Brydges and Scott Brydges, and a step-sister, Laura Brydges.
Rod had a pretty quiet childhood. He had memories of playing soccer with his Dad, and going to fly model airplanes with his step-father and siblings. Rod was a good student and he loved hockey. It was when Rod was in Grade 9, he met a young lady by the name of Laura Sharpe. Rod and Laura ended up going to GCVI together. When Rod was 15 years old, one of his friends suggested he join Army cadets. Rod swiftly joined the Guelph Army Cadet Unit 1882 Wellington rifles and Rod went on to become a competitive target shooter. When Rod was 17 years old, he competed at Bisley in England and was recognized as one of the Top 100 shooters in the Commonwealth.
Joining Cadets was a very positive experience in Rod’s youth, where he thrived and excelled. Rod’s upbringing was not affluent, and over the years Rod had to plan how he was going to pay for his post-secondary education. Through Cadets, he learned that if he went to Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston, and served for four years in the Military afterwards, his schooling would be paid for. Rod was accepted into RMC and he enjoyed the comradery and friendships that he made at the school. It was the brotherhood that stood out for him more than the academics. Rod worked hard and did very well, and he graduated from RMC in 1989 with a degree in Civil Engineering. It was during this time when his friend Laura was also in University, and when he came home they would go on dates to the movies or out for dinner, but they soon lost touch again.
BGen Andre Corbould (ret’d) spoke of his time with Rod as young officer cadets in Military College and during Combat Engineer Officer training. “Rod was the consummate people person and learner as a student. He never took the easy road and always wanted to interact with people and explore the learnings in practice far above getting his head in a book. This was a great strength when leading people.”
Since Rod owed four years of service to the army after graduating, he spent a year in Chilliwack BC and two years in Gagetown, New Brunswick. He was then posted to England, serving for two years in Andover. In 1993, while Rod was serving in England, he reconnected with Laura and invited her to a family wedding that he was attending in Toronto. Soon afterwards, they started writing back and forth, and Laura went to visit him in England in the summer of 1994. Just before Christmas that same year, Rod came home for a visit. He took Laura tobogganing at the Westwood School hill where they spent time when they were kids, and it was on this hill that Rodney proposed to Laura. They married in April 1995 in Guelph. After honeymooning in California, they immediately left Guelph and moved across Canada to Alberta, where Rodney would be posted to CFB Edmonton as Captain.
“I was a bit reluctant to move there, due to the cold weather” shared Laura. “But Rod said it would only be for about a year, and then he would be posted to Chilliwack, BC. But shortly after we moved to Edmonton, CFB Chilliwack closed. We lived in Edmonton for 10 years.”
It was in Edmonton that all three of the Keller children were born. When Laura found out she was pregnant with their first born, within days they found out that Rod would be posted to Bosnia for an extra-long tour. Rod left for Bosnia in May, and he was granted a one-week leave to be home for Gabriel’s birth in December 1997. He was home when Gabriel was born, and then had to return to Bosnia for three weeks to finish off his post. Rod returned home on New Year’s Eve, 20 minutes before the stroke of midnight.
Rod was home for a month and then in February 1998, Rod left for Kingston, Ontario for a six month course at Army Staff College. It was a course that Rod needed, in order to be promoted. Rod then left again in Jan 1999 for a second six-month course in Kingston. Laura said, “During this time, we had been living in a tiny two-bedroom house, and had no indication that the army was going to move us anytime soon. So I bought a house and moved us. When Rod came home in June, Rod had to take a taxi from the airport, and as he was getting dropped off, he had to look in the windows to see if he recognized the furniture to confirm that he had the right house.”
He came home in July, and one month later Hannah was born. Life ticked along nicely in Edmonton for two years. From September 2000 to August 2001, Rod was studying French, since it was important that Canadian Officers are bilingual. In August 2001, he was transferred back to his home base regiment 1CER – 1 Combat Engineer Regiment. There were three deployable squadrons, and the squadron Rod led was the IRF – Immediate Reaction Force. The squadron traditionally remained at home, while the other two were sent on consecutive tours to Bosnia. It had been the pattern that the IRF never was deployed and he was looking forward to a quiet year of being home in the evenings with his young family.
Two weeks later, the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 happened and everything changed. Rod’s IRF squadron was the first Canadian deployment to Afghanistan in February 2002, and Rod served for six months in Afghanistan. There was a sense of true brotherhood that developed while serving on this tour. There was no mistaking that this was an actual war compared to the peacekeeping missions previously.
While Rod was in Afghanistan, four Canadian soldiers were killed in friendly fire by the US. Rod came home in August of 2002, and as they were travelling from the airport to base by bus, people in Edmonton had lined the full 30 km route, all standing holding yellow ribbons. The bus was absolutely silent. They had no idea how much Canadians were being impacted by this war and that they had cared so much about their military. Rod came home from tours extremely grateful for where he lived and for the luxury of being able to get an education. Rob imparted this thankfulness in his children.
Laura shared, “It was a very special tour because Canada had not been in a combat role since Korea. Our generation had never before been involved in combat – only peacekeeping – and it was an extraordinary time.” Nine months after Rod came home from Afghanistan, Paige was born in May 2003.
Andre spoke of Rod, during his time as a senior officer and field commander. “Rod was a senior officer of impeccable character and integrity. He was a true leader and excellent field commander who inspired his soldiers and through real leadership by example. He never asked anyone to do anything he was not prepared to do himself. Lots of people say this but Rod always lived it.”
In 2004, the Keller family moved to Ottawa, where Rod became a Career Manager which involved guiding officers on their careers for required education, time in regiment, and getting them to where they needed to be for their own best interest. In 2006, Rod was posted to Toronto and lived there for a year. This Canadian Forces Staff College was for Army, Navy and the Air Force. It was a great year in which he completed a Master’s degree and he met many new friends who were also in this program from Belize, Australia, Pakistan, and all over the world.
In 2007, Rod was posted back to Edmonton where he worked as the Area Engineer. He looked after all the Infrastructure for Western Canada for the Army and was on the road constantly. In 2008, Rod received the news that Shawn Eades, Rod’s driver when they were both deployed in Afghanistan in 2002, had been killed in combat in Afghanistan. Rod was devastated by this news and Rod gave the eulogy at Shawn’s funeral.
In 2009, Rod was posted to CFB Suffield, in Southern Alberta as Base Commander. It is a unique base as it is heavily populated by the British Army who use it as a training area, due to the very large area of land. Laura shared, “There were 30 Canadian families and 250 British families living there – it was like living in England, except the base was surrounded by ranch land and cowboys.” The base hosted its own rodeo and the Keller family even got invited by a local rancher to a branding. The Keller family was invited to meet Sophie the Countess of Essex while they were there. This was a tremendously enjoyable two years not only for Rod, but for the entire Keller family.
It was around this time, that the Keller family became weary with the prospect of moving once again. Rod always wanted to work for a Municipality and to serve municipal residents. Laura and Rod sat down with a map of Canada, and worked their way across Canada googling Municipal jobs that fit his skill set. There were a few cities that had open positions that would be a good match, and one of those cities was Guelph. He applied to Guelph and was hired within two weeks as the General Manager of Operations. Rod retired from the Military and started his new position in Guelph in July 2011. “It was incredible luck,” said Laura. “We were so happy to be back in Guelph, and he enjoyed working for the City of Guelph very much.”
As head of one of the City’s largest Departments, Rod oversaw roads and right of ways, traffic and parking, bylaw and security, fleet and equipment. The crews working for him were among the City’s first responders, making for a busy 24/7 operation. “When I first met Rod, I was instantly struck by his genuine warmth and interest in getting to know the people he would be working with in his new role,” shared Colleen Clack, Deputy CAO. “For Rod, leadership meant connecting with staff at all levels in an authentic way. Rod would go out of his way, no matter how busy he was, to stop and ask staff about their grandkids, weekend plans, or just express an interest in how they were doing.”
Rod enjoyed his time back in Guelph immensely. He loved to golf, and one of the first things that Rod did when he moved back was to get a membership at the Guelph Country Club, where he golfed three to four times per week. In the winter, Rod and Laura would visit her parents in Florida and Rod would golf while he was there. Rod enjoyed being in Ontario with the proximity to the Blue Jays. On Laura and Rod’s wedding anniversary each April, they would go to a Blue Jays game to celebrate. Rod also enjoyed getting together with his army friends for a fishing trip in Bella Coola, British Columbia every couple of years.
It was Canada Day, July 1, 2016, that would be Rod’s last full day. Normally the Keller family would plan a big day to Celebrate Canada’s birthday and would either go to Ottawa or to Canada’s Wonderland. But this year, they decided to have a quiet day at home. The family watched the Blue Jays game on television, which was unique as it was a 19-inning baseball game. They then went over to Laura’s parents’ house by the Guelph Country Club, and sat in their driveway to watch the fireworks. When they got home, they made home-made ice cream to eat with butter tarts. As Laura and Rod were drifting off to sleep that night, Laura shared, “The last thing he ever said to me was ‘That was one crazy baseball game’ before we drifted off to sleep. It was truly a wonderful day.”
The next morning, Rod slipped quietly out of the bedroom to head to his beloved Country Club, to play a round of golf. It was a beautiful sunny day, and he was golfing by himself, which he was happy to do. It was there that Rod was found on the third hole, having suffered a massive heart attack. Rod passed away on Saturday, July 2, 2016 at the age of 49. “He was never happier than on a golf course” explained Laura. “So it was fitting that he spent his final moments at his much-loved Country Club on such a beautiful day.”
An unprecedented number of people attended Rod’s funeral at St. George’s Church, including friends that Rod had served with in the Military who travelled across Canada to attend. City workers in their work wear lined up along Woolwich Street as an honour guard for the family, which was beautiful and incredibly touching to witness. The Guelph Country Club planted a tree in his memory, the 31st Guelph Scout Group also planted a memorial tree, and a meeting room in the Operations Department at the City of Guelph will be named after him. The outpouring of love and tribute for LCol Rodney Keller has been extraordinary and significant, a reflection of the life that he lived.