Keith H. Emerson, 92, of Luray, passed away peacefully Feb. 7, 2017.
He was born Feb. 4, 1925, in Luray, to the late Milton E. Emerson and Elmer Wood Emerson.
At age 18, Mr. Emerson enlisted in the U.S. Army and served with Gen. George Patton’s Third Army in the World War II campaign to liberate Europe. He was among the early American troops to enter the Dachau Concentration Camp in southern Germany after its liberation in April 1945. He graduated from Luray High School after the war.
Mr. Emerson briefly attended Shepherd College, then started a 39-year career at Shenandoah National Park, where he retired as the foreman for buildings and utilities maintenance, managing crews and facilities from Front Royal to Rockfish Gap, a distance of 105 miles. Mr. Emerson, who knew every acre of Shenandoah National Park, began his career there as a ranger and later worked as the park’s sign maker, producing many of the large, routed redwood and cypress signs that still stand. He declined several transfer offers that would have taken him and his family to national parks as far away as California.
Throughout his life, Mr. Emerson had strong connections to the Blue Ridge Mountains and the people who inhabited them. As a boy, he often accompanied and worked with his father, who owned trail horses and oversaw the operation of Freeman Pollack’s stables at the Skyland resort before the land became a national park. At age 11, Keith Emerson attended the park dedication at Big Meadows, where President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke on July 3, 1936.
In the spring of 1953, Mr. Emerson met Gayle Peters of The Plains at the wedding of his nephew and her first cousin. He served as the best man, she as the maid of honor. Six weeks later, the couple eloped to North Carolina and married. Mr. and Mrs. Emerson built a house behind his childhood home and stayed there the rest of his long and truly wonderful life.
Mr. Emerson was a former commander of VFW Post 621 in Luray and a founder of its color guard. He also was a former member of American Legion Post 22, a former member of the town’s volunteer fire department and a member of the Luray United Methodist Church. He and other veterans built the VFW Ballpark in Luray after World War II.
After retiring a month before his 61st birthday, he and his wife traveled widely. He was an avid reader who particularly enjoyed Civil War and World War II history. Mr. Emerson also became well known around Luray for his daily, three-mile walk that started before dawn, and for dutifully raising an American flag in front of his home each morning.
Upon retirement in January 1986, Mr. Emerson recalled in a Page News & Courier interview that seeing a female bobcat and its two kittens ranked among the most memorable experiences during his career. At work, he also once stepped on a copperhead, which left two fang marks in one of his boots. He killed the poisonous snake.
Survivors include his wife of 63 years, Gayle P. Emerson; two sons, Lawrence K. Emerson and wife Ellen of Warrenton and Philip G. Emerson and wife Beth of Williamsburg; two grandchildren, Katherine Emerson and Peyton Emerson; a nephew, James M. Emerson Jr.; a niece, Maryglenn Bare, and extended family members.
His four older siblings, Everett L. Emerson, Thelma Emerson Nevitt, James M. Emerson and Geraldine Emerson Woodward, preceded him in death.
The Rev. William A. Ricketts Jr. conducted a memorial service with military honors Saturday, Feb. 11, in the pavilion at Beahm’s Chapel Cemetery. A reception followed at American Legion Post 22.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Luray Volunteer Fire Department, 1 Firehouse Lane, Luray, Va. 22835, or the Luray Volunteer Rescue Squad, P.O. Box 266, Luray, Va. 22835.