Alexander “Sandy” Keith, the popular and accomplished piper, teacher and leader, died on the evening of February 1, 2012 at the age of 74. A native of Paisley, Scotland and a pupil of the great Peter MacLeod Sr., Keith made his mark in piping after he immigrated to Canada in 1952, and subsequently to the United States to settle in Dunedin, Florida, where he became synonymous with the southern U.S. piping scene and the highly successful Dunedin High School piping and drumming program.
He started piping at age 11 as one of the earliest students at the College of Piping. He had early instruction from College of Piping co-founder Seumas MacNeill, and received additional tuition from college instructors such as Bob Hardie, John Garroway and Archie MacNeill, the famous blind piper.
Sandy Keith moved to Canada at age 17, settling in Hamilton, Ontario, to work in the then-thriving steel industry. He sought ought instruction from Major Archie Cairns, and went on to join the Royal Canadian Air Force.
In Ontario he was best known for his success as Pipe-Major of the Erskine Pipe Band, taking it from struggling in Grade 3 to a Grade 1 contender. Several famous pipers played in Erskine under Sandy Keith, including the late Scott MacAulay, John Recknagel and Ian Whitelaw.
In 1982 Keith was recruited to take over the piping and drumming program in Dunedin, Florida. As Piping Director, he oversaw the growth of the operation, building it to comprise three bands, the best of which rose to a high-standard Grade 2 band, placing well at the North American Championships and at the World Championships in Scotland. He taught hundreds of pipers, many of whom have gone on to teach many of their own pupils.
Keith was always involved with piping and drumming associations, whether in Ontario or the United States. He was President of the Southern United States Pipe Band Association for many years, and worked to establish that organization’s adjudication panel and accreditation system. He was a frequent judge in the United States and Ontario scenes until his final year.
He was the organizer of the very successful Dunedin Highland Games, and annual event that attracted most of the bands and soloists in the southern U.S. His network of friends comprised the who’s who of piping and drumming.
“Sandy Keith put Florida piping and pipe bands on the world map,” said Robert Mathieson, a long-time friend of Sandy Keith. “In terms of teaching he had a very original style that produced good pipers year after year. I will remember him as a friend, good judge and tutor. The state of Florida, and Dunedin in particular, owe it to Sandy to keep piping and the pipe band movement moving forward. His legacy is that he has left the foundations for this to happen. He will be sadly missed, and our thoughts are with Mary and the family at this very sad time.”
Renowned for his no-nonsense, at times even gruff, exterior, those who knew Sandy Keith knew a warm and friendly man, always ready with a quip or joke.
Details of the funeral are to be determined.
On behalf of the piping and drumming world, we extend our sympathies to Sandy Keith’s survivors and his many friends around the world.