Vannie Traylor Keightley

December 1, 1933 - October 1, 2018
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Vannie Traylor Keightley died peacefully at age 84, from complications of Alzheimer’s Disease, in the early morning of October 1, 2018 in Oakland, California.

Born in 1933, she was raised in a Southern Baptist home in the Alcoa Aluminum company town of Maryville, Tennessee. Her father George Hamilton Traylor was an engineer and Vice President with Alcoa; her mother Sarah Moore Traylor was a homemaker and writer. Vannie was the middle child and had two brothers, Hamilton and Robert.  She graduated from Agnes Scott College in 1956, then moved to New York City, where she earned a Master of Arts in Education from New York University in 1961. While in NYC Vannie worked in galleries and took art classes at the Art Students League, where for a time she painted at an easel across from Jackson Pollock.

In 1957, through mutual friends, Vannie met her future husband David Keightley, who was on crutches due to a broken leg, which Vannie found “very romantic,” according to David. Romance would have to wait, as Vannie soon traveled to Italy and Greece to teach English and make art for two years before returning to NYC, where she and David were reunited by the same mutual friends. Vannie and David’s marriage in Pittsburgh in 1965 immediately preceded their move to Taiwan, where David continued research for his PhD for two years. The couple moved back to NYC with their infant son Steven in 1968 so David could complete his dissertation. In 1969 the family moved to Berkeley, CA, where David began his faculty appointment at UC Berkeley. Vannie and David’s second son Richard was born in 1970.

Vannie was an artist, a faculty wife, homemaker, and mother to her two sons. While David built his academic career as a professor of Chinese history, she raised their family while maintaining her interest in visual art. In 1986 she earned her Master of Fine Arts degree from the San Francisco Art Institute and was an avid creator of oil and acrylic painting, ceramic sculpture, and fine-art prints for most of her life.

A kind and private woman, Vannie loved to read and had a wry sense of humor. In her prime, she enjoyed tennis and swimming. She had a life-long sweet tooth and favored chocolate donuts. A keen observer, but not often one to self-disclose, she had a unique flair for eccentric, but only occasionally shared, opinions.

Health complications in 2010 meant that she had to stop driving and give up her Berkeley art studio. In 2016 she moved, with David, to Assisted Living at Piedmont Gardens in Oakland. David died in early 2017, and Vannie then moved to the Memory Care floor at Piedmont Gardens in April of the same year.

She is survived by her sons Steven and Richard, her daughters-in-law Mari and Robin, her grandchildren Sophie and Preston, her younger brother Robert Traylor of La Jolla, and several nieces and nephews. A memorial gathering is planned for November 3, 2018 at Piedmont Gardens and her ashes will be interred at Sunset View Cemetery in El Cerrito, CA.

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Service Schedule

Cemetery Information

Sunset View Cemetery Association


101 Colusa Avenue, El Cerrito, CA, 94530

Memorial Information

Date: Saturday, November 3, 2018

Piedmont Gardens


110 41st Street, Oakland, CA, 94611

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Timeline for Vannie Traylor Keightley

Born: December 1, 1933
Died: October 1, 2018

Condolences for Vannie Traylor Keightley

Sunset View Mortuary

Our sincere condolences.

The staff of Sunset View Mortuary.


Dennis Miller posted on 11/6/18

My wife Sara joins me in extending sympathy. Family members and friends will find this condolence strange. I never knew Mrs.Keightley. One of the many blessings in my life is to have known her parents. Like Mrs Keightley, I was raised in a Southern Baptist home in Maryville, Tennessee. My mother and I attended First Baptist Church in Maryville, as did Mr. and Mrs. Traylor. My saintly mother and Mrs. Traylor were friends. As a youngster growing up ( I am about 8 years younger than Mrs. Keightley) I witnessed first hand the polished effectiveness of a humble Christian executive and his lovely, talented wife. I am not sure I realised and appreciated what I was seeing. A few years later it was very clear. Mr. Traylor, who was called Ham by adults -not by us children- was the head of Tennessee operations for the Aluminum Company of America located in Maryville's twin city of Alcoa. In those days -- I graduated from Maryville High School in 1959- thousands of employees worked there in three shifts a day 7 days a week. Mr. Traylor, a quiet and soft spoken man, was the chairman of the Board of Deacons at First Baptist. Everybody in the congregation respected the Traylors. So the Chairman of the Board of Deacons at church was the top executive at Alcoa. What a blessing the Traylors were. Later in life I presented the Traylors to illustrate of one of the many benefits a small town enjoys from having a large employer in the area. How many small town churches could have leadership like Mr. Traylor? To you grandchildren and others I say if you wonder what difference one Christian couple can make, think of Sarah and Ham Traylor.