KEY WEST, Florida Keys — Until his death in 2003, Bishop Albert Kee welcomed visitors to Key West's Southernmost Point marker, acting as a smiling ambassador for the island while selling fluted, pink-lined conch shells beside the iconic landmark. The public can recall Kee and the "old Key West" heritage he represented Saturday, March 7, during the unveiling of a life-size bronze sculpture of him at the Southernmost Point.
The unveiling is the planned highlight of a celebration beginning at 2:30 p.m. at the marker, which delineates the continental United States' southernmost spot of land and overlooks the Atlantic Ocean at Whitehead and South streets.
"Each day Bishop Kee, a preacher and a leader of Key West's Bahama Village neighborhood, could be seen at the Southernmost Point greeting visitors with a cheerful wave and toot on a conch shell," said Bruce Neff, whose Historic Markers Inc. spearheaded community support for the sculpture.
"He and his father before him left a 50-year legacy of welcoming all who visited the Southernmost Point, popularized conch shell blowing, and were emissaries of the multicultural, multi-ethnic community that has made Key West unique since its inception," Neff said.
Elements of the celebration are to include a street fair with food and beverage booths, a live radio broadcast, live music and speakers including Kee family members, Key West dignitaries and sculptor Tom Joris. Among the featured performers are Howard Livingston, the Key West Comparsa Dancers and students from the Bahama Village Music Program.
Also to be on hand are conch shell "musicians" from the 53rd annual Conch Shell Blowing Contest set for March 7 at Key West's Oldest House Museum. Kee was a regular figure at the popular competition and the "conch honkers" are to blow blasts on their shells to honor him.
The Southernmost Point marker, a larger-than-life buoy, attracts nearly every visitor to Key West for photo opportunities. According to Neff, its waterfront location once was the spot where the island's Afro-Bahamian fishermen anchored their boats, sold their catch, and enjoyed a small slice of beachfront before 1969 when Florida beaches were desegregated.
The bronze sculpture, depicting Kee blowing a large conch shell and waving a greeting, is to remain on permanent display at the Southernmost Point. The sculpture project was undertaken in collaboration with the City of Key West and its Art in Public Places Board.
Event information: Bruce Neff at 305-393-9777
Key West visitor information: fla-keys.com/keywest
Kee welcomed visitors to the Southernmost Point, and helped popularize conch shell blowing. Photos: Rob O'Neal
Sculptor Tom Joris created a working model of the to-be-life-size bronze sculpture of Kee.