Walt Keller, Malibu’s first mayor, passes away

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Walt Keller. Contributed photo.

Retired aerospace engineer and his wife of 67 years have lived in the same home in West Malibu since 1961

By Barbara Burke

Of The Malibu Times

​Malibu’s first mayor, who was instrumental in the formation of the city, passed away on Oct. 13 after a long illness. He was 93 years old.

​“I remember fighting for cityhood with Walt and Lucile. He cared about Malibu and only wanted the best for those of us who chose to live here,” Lonnie Gordon said. “He was a good example of someone who represented the residents of our city.”

​Keller retired from Northrop Grumman where he served for decades as an aerospace engineer. After helping to lead the effort seeking cityhood for Malibu, he

became the city’s first mayor because he was the top vote-getter for the City Council incorporation election in June 1990.

​Keller lost a re-election bid for council in 1994, but returned to the office in 1996. He was defeated again in 2000, only to emerge victorious in 2004. He helped to found the Malibu Committee for Incorporation, and served as its president, and remained active in the Malibu Township Council until the COVID pandemic. 

​Keller and his wife of 67 years have lived in the same home in West Malibu since 1961. The couple met when he was serving a two-year stint in the Army and Lucile was serving as a civil service worker. 

​Keller earned his engineering degree from Yale. While working full-time after graduation, he also earned an Master’s degree and Ph.D in engineering from UCLA.

Keller, an avid traveler, often went on international trips after he retired in 1987. 

“Until COVID, Walt was active in Malibu Methodist Church,” Lucile said. “After he retired in 1987, he immediately began working on the effort to make Malibu a city. The residents of Malibu had lost the first two attempts to do that in 1964 and 1976, but were successful in the third effort in 1990.”

She explained, “We incorporated because we did not want the county to build a sewer system that would have allowed for a large amount of development of hotels and resorts that our fragile environment could not support. We had to sue the county because at first, it refused to certify the election.” 

Malibu finally became a city on March 28, 1991. The residents celebrated with a parade, skydivers, and even a party, with the Kellers having the first dance.

“When the state and county governments looked at Malibu, they saw a land ripe for freeways, marinas, power plants, and hotels,” Keller told the audience, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times covering the meeting. “But the residents of Malibu had a different vision.” 

Lucile shared more details about Walt’s long, successful life of service to Malibu.

“My husband also worked hard in support of Charmlee Park and he made the boundary map for the park,” she said. “Because he knew full well that it was not good for the city to be responsible for anything that happened at the beach, he designed the Charmlee Park map based on the existing natural boundaries referring to the old Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit, so the park ends right at the Leo Carillo boundary.”

Keller’s father, Walter, and his mother, Emma, predeceased him, as did his only sibling, his brother Donald. He is survived by Lucile; his son Tim, who lives near Northridge; his daughter Karen, who lives in South Carolina; two grandchildren, Jennifer and Hillary; and MacKenzie, a great granddaughter. He is also survived by many, many admiring friends in Malibu.

A memorial service is planned, with details to be announced in the near future. Lucile recommends that in lieu of flowers, those interested can donate to the Malibu Township Council or an animal rescue charity organization.