By J. PATRICK PEPPER
DEARBORN — Longtime city department head and community organizer Robert “Keith” Archer died Sunday, March 28, 2010, at age 81 following a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease.
Over the course of four decades, Mr. Archer served as the head of various city departments under mayors Orville Hubbard, John O’Reilly Sr. and Michael Guido.
His career as a public servant began as a youth counselor with the city’s Recreation Department, where he quickly caught Hubbard’s eye. His wife, Evelyn, said that Mr. Archer started climbing the city ranks through a perchance incident when he impressed Hubbard with his organizational skills.
“Mayor Hubbard was driving by this park, and here Keith is directing all of these kids in a singalong and Mayor Hubbard was just so impressed he offered him the lifeguard job at Camp Dearborn,” she said.
Mr. Archer took the position at the newly purchase Milford property and used it to launch what would become a prolific career with the city. He soon became manager of the campgrounds, where he continued to impress Hubbard with a bottom line-oriented approach to business.
In 1957, Hubbard appointed Mr. Archer as the director of the city’s small transportation department. The responsibilities weren’t huge at first, said Evelyn Archer, but it was a way to get her husband into the system and prevent him from seeking other opportunities.
“It was kind of funny, because all he really had to do was coordinate busing schedules from cities like Detroit, because at the time, the city didn’t have any buses,” she said.
Following a two-year stint in transportation, Mr. Archer was named head of the city’s public safety efforts. At the time it was the highest salaried position in the city.
Archer served in that capacity until 1962, when he moved into the top spot in the Parks and Recreation Department, where he would remain for 15 years. It was there where he made perhaps the most indelible marks on public life in Dearborn, helping to open the neighborhood pool facilities and organize the youth athletic leagues that for years helped to bring together thousands of children for summer baseball.
But no matter what his title was during the Hubbard years, he was always a close confidante and trusted fixer for the mayor, said Evelyn Archer. Hubbard often relied on him in negotiations with labor unions and often gave him the tasks that no one else could or wanted to do.
In one incident, Evelyn said, Hubbard was meeting with his department heads and announced that he wanted someone to remove a raggedy-looking newsstand near the steps of City Hall.
“Mayor Hubbard said, ‘Who’s going to do this? Archer, you up to this?’ and Keith said, ‘Yes sir.’ So that night in some strange moment of serendipity, a truck driver falls asleep, drives up onto the lawn of City Hall and just destroys this newsstand.
“The next day Mayor Hubbard walked into work and said, “See that’s why I can always trust Archer.”
When Hubbard became sick in office in 1974, Mr. Archer became the chief executive officer for the city, effectively running its day-to-day operations. He held that position until 1978, when he became the city’s finance director, a position in which he helped to accumulate a sizable budget surplus.
In addition to his finance duties, in 1992 Mr. Archer officially was named the chief labor negotiator for the city. He retired from full-time work in 1997, but remained as the labor negotiator until 2005.
Archer was heavily involved in music and community organizations throughout his life. With a master’s degree in vocal music from the prestigious Indiana University College of Music, Mr. Archer helped to organize the Dearborn Youth Symphony and youth music program. And he was a fixture at the Memorial Day Parade, where he would sing remembrances in honor of fallen veterans at the end of the route.
A devout Catholic, he also was principal cantor at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, which houses the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Services for Mr. Archer were held last week at Divine Child Catholic Church, and on Wednesday he was buried at St. Hedwig Cemetery & Mausoleum. in Dearborn Heights.
He is survived by his wife, Evelyn, his children, Dennis, Eileen, Bridgid Harris (Don), Kathleen Nell, Sean and Shannon, as well as 10 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.