When Dr. Bill Keene
gave a presentation on the dangers of raw milk at a past meeting of the American Veterinary Medical Association
, even the raw milk advocates on the opposing side of the panel couldn't help but laugh and revel in the Oregon senior state epidemiologist's dry humor.
Keene, 56, who fell ill with acute pancreatitis and passed away suddenly on Sunday afternoon, was the epidemiologist who always called things how he saw them and regularly bucked tradition, according to colleagues and admirers.
He was the epidemiologist who took environmental samples of restroom diaper-changing tables, personally visited outbreak victims' homes to collect suspect food, and earned a national reputation for digging deep into investigations and pioneering unconventional methods.
Because outbreaks don't recognize state borders, Keene
would often end up working with Mohle-Boetani and public health units in California during big outbreaks.
When California's almond industry was hit especially hard with Salmonella outbreaks a decade ago, Keene
traveled to the plants to help solve contamination issues with their operations.
knew that getting at the cause of an outbreak rapidly was what you needed to do to protect the public, and he was very persistent," Mohle-Boetani said.
Keene earned his bachelor's degree in anthropology from Yale University and then spent two years studying rhesus monkeys in India and Pakistan before attending graduate school in public health and microbiology.
had that training, but, as an anthropologist, he
also looked at telling stories and seeing how the facts fit.
Bill really brought that to the area of foodborne disease epidemiology."
Oregon and Minnesota are often cited as having two of the leading state epidemiology teams.
While that might lead some to become competitive, Keene
was always a great collaborator with Minnesota, Osterholm said.
"But there will never be another one quite like Bill
In June 2012,Â Food Safety News interviewed Keene
about an E. coli O145 outbreak that had yet to be resolved.
While Oregon was not involved with the outbreak investigation, Keene
provided insight into how public health investigators try to pinpoint a food source in an open investigation.
Listen to that interview below:
Dr. William Keene, Oregonâ€™s senior state epidemiologist, died Sunday, Dec. 1, The Oregonian newspaper reported.
was admitted to a Portland hospital two weeks earlier for acute pancreatitis.
For the past two decades, the nationally known food detective kept the Oregon Public Health Division at the top of a short list of states known for being able to quickly solve outbreaks of foodborne disease.
In a profile published in The Oregonian in 2010, colleagues called Keene everything from "one of the food safety heroes in the U.S." to â€œzealous, energetic, dedicated and diligent.â€
personal license plate was Oregon O157
:H7, the deadliest strain of E. coli.
Keene, 56, grew up in Seattle, where his father was an accountant for Boeing and his mother was a homemaker.
He is a 1977 graduate of Yale University, with a bachelorâ€™s degree in anthropology.
spent two years in India and Pakistan studying rhesus monkeys.
Returning to the states, he became interested in parasites while working as a lab technician at the University of California at San Francisco.
His interest in parasites led Keene back to graduate school, first at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and then at the University of California at Berkeley, where he graduated in 1989 with a master's in public health and a doctorate in microbiology.
He had worked as Oregonâ€™s top food detective ever since.