The Faces of a Legacy

Bradford-O’Keefe Funeral Homes

When you think of South Mississippi family legacies, the multigenerational O’Keefe family easily springs to mind. As leaders of the family-owned business, the Bradford-O’Keefe Funeral Home, Inc., the O’Keefes have been serving the Gulf Coast and beyond for six generations and for almost 160 years with a passionate and unwavering dedication to Mississippians.

  “We are the largest, family-owned funeral home on the Gulf Coast,” said Jeffrey O’Keefe, Sr., a fifth-generation O’Keefe and Chief Executive Officer of six funeral homes, three cemeteries and Mississippi’s first crematory.

  O’Keefe is the tenth child of the late Biloxi Mayor Jerry and the late Annette O’Keefe. He first joined the family business in 1973 while in high school and returned following college to eventually assume ownership of Bradford-O’Keefe. It was then the funeral home established the first crematory in the Magnolia State. Now, with locations from Ocean Springs to Bay St. Louis, the O’Keefes stay busy with several family members working in a variety of positions at different facilities all along the Coast.

  His son, Jeffrey O’Keefe, Jr., began working in the company in 2004 and is now President of Bradford-O’Keefe working alongside his father as a sixth-generation family member. Justin O’Keefe leads the team in advanced funeral, cremation, cemetery, and financial planning. Justin’s son, Jules O’Keefe, is another sixth-generation family member and is a prearrangement specialist and a licensed funeral director.

  Jeffrey O’Keefe, Sr., said he is proud of the legacy his family heritage has built but humbled by the fact that Bradford-O’Keefe is the only remaining large, family-owned funeral home business on the Gulf Coast. A daily source of pride when he rolls into his office on Porter Avenue in Ocean Springs is knowing he and his family have had an uncompromising community loyalty since the mid-1800s. His goal is to sustain that tradition.

  When asked what he wants people to remember about himself, he states that it would be that he was a good steward of the business during his tenure and that he grew the company.  

  Known throughout the Gulf Coast as a family with a fondness for Southern cooking and historic story-telling, the O’Keefes have kept impeccable family archives. The unprecedented legacy began right on Porter Avenue in an area now considered “Ole Town Ocean Springs.”

  On February 3, 1859, Ned O’Keefe bought the property and started a livery and boarding house that allowed tourists to bathe in the natural artesian wells, which were touted to be of healing nature. Months earlier, he and his sister had immigrated from Ireland to Ocean Springs.

  Years later, he enlisted in the Live Oak Rifles 3rd infantry during the Civil War. Following the war, Ned O’Keefe returned to Ocean Springs in 1865 and began the drayage service J. O’Keefe, Undertaker, Livery, and Sale Stable, to carry those who had passed to the local cemetery. When he died in 1874, his son Jeremiah “Jerry” O’Keefe continued the livery service, and in 1892 the family business was named O’Keefe Funeral Services. Later that year, he was elected as an alderman for the newly incorporated Ocean Springs and became the first O’Keefe family member to hold a political office.

  After Jerry O’Keefe died in 1911, his sons Ben, John, and Jodie O’Keefe ran the business. In June 1923, the first Biloxi location was added and the O’Keefe Burial Association was established to help families fund funerals.

  Ben’s son and Jeffrey O’Keefe Sr.’s father, Jerry O’Keefe, III, was a World War II Ace Fighter Pilot who also served in the state Legislature and spent eight years as Mayor of Biloxi. In 1953, he solely acquired the family business and solidified the fourth generation carrying the funeral home forward. Jerry O’Keefe, III, merged the O’Keefe Funeral Services with the Bradford Funeral Home Company and formed the current Bradford-O’Keefe Funeral Home, Inc. An upcoming courtroom drama “The Burial” starring Tommy Lee Jones and Jamie Foxx will depict Jerry O’Keefe, III’s flamboyant attorney’s life and Jerry’s struggle to save the family business from a predatory corporate behemoth. The Amazon Studio film is currently in post-production.

  So what does the future hold for the Bradford-O’Keefe Funeral Homes legacy? Jeffrey O’Keefe Sr. proudly beams when speaking of the seventh generation – his current grandchildren are ages 2, 3, and 5. “This seventh generation is growing nicely and he believes one will come along to carry the tradition,” he said with a smile and a chuckle.

Bradford-O’Keefe Funeral Homes
Ocean Springs, Biloxi, Gulfport, Bay St. Louis and Vancleave
www.bokfh.com

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