IN MEMORY OFDESMOND “GENTLE” O'KEEFFE1949–2018
‘Just the piano tuner…’ a common phrase to be heard floating through the Piano Shop on a normal day in Camden town. But Desmond Gentle has always been so much more. A poet, a musician, a raconteur, an inventor and above all, a true inspiration to those who were lucky enough to know him.
Born in 1949, Desmond grew up in a musical family. His mother, whom he always used to speak of with such love and devotion, played piano, as did his Uncle while his father worked in Telegraphy. Desmond only began to work on pianos when money was required in the household.
In his youth he was an inventor. Such was the case that one day, plagued by the idea that children were dying due to medicinal overdoses, Desmond invented the child-proof caps for bottles and gave away the patent. Potentially saving many, many lives.
He worked with pianos for over 50 years and often likened the process to ‘repeatedly cutting the same lawn with a pair of nail clippers and once it has grown back—you just have to begin again’. Thank goodness he had the cats to keep the boredom at bay. You would still find him working tirelessly, all hours of the day and night in order to fix an old piano. His work ethic was incredible and evident from the skills which he had acquired over the years and shared so generously with all who wanted to learn… and some who didn’t.
“Desmond-not-so-gentle”—would appear every now and then. As soft and playful as he was, he had a bite and was aware of injustice. In any case, every person who walked in the shop left a little richer—except religious fanatics and fools, who may have gone away stripped of their certainties.
Throughout his life he has continuously contributed to charitable causes, largely without credit or acknowledgment. His most recent achievements were: ‘The Deepest Concert’; ‘The Highest Chopin Concert’ and ‘The Highest Harp Concert’. Inspired by Alex Stobbs, on just one venture, £15,000 was raised for Cystic Fibrosis – all because of Demond’s impeccable ability to make the impossible... well… possible. He not only came up with the idea but also orchestrated the event—much like with the film ‘Piano to Zanskar’.
In his later years he became more and more concerned with Environmental issues. In Ladakh, he found the plastic problems to be prominent and set about inventing ways of using plastic as a viable building material—back to the inventor. In 2016, he built the first plastic bottle greenhouse in Ladakh with Anna. As time went on, he also harboured great friendships with the inhabitants and continued to visit for the coming years, as well as flying pianos to places such as Mozambique and Romania. His most recent dream was to find a way of raising enough funds for an MRI machine for the Ladakhi hospital… no doubt this would have involved a piano—and a lot of energy.
Desmond is no longer in this particular world but for those lucky enough to know him… “A great tree has fallen” and flowers grow where he once stood.
— ANNA RAY