Albert “Bishop” Kee was such a loved member of the community that his memorial was held at the Key West High School, the only place in town that could fit such an audience.
“There was even people standing outside the door,” said Mercedes Kee, beloved sister of Bishop who has vivid memories of her oldest brother.
His kind heart, peaceful nature and outgoing personality are to be commemorated by the Bishop Key Memorial Statue, set to be unveiled Saturday, March 7 at 2:30 p.m. at the Southernmost Point.
Historic Tours of America estimates he greeted more than 11 million people at the Southernmost Buoy during his 50 years he spent there selling shells and blowing his conch.
“He used to come home and tell us about different people he met from all over the world every day,” said Mercedes, adding that he had a deeply religious nature. “But he would always pack up early on Mondays for prayer night and was not there at all on Sundays.”
Kee grew up harvesting conch and fishing, a trade passed down from his father. In the early days, his little stand at the buoy was strung with conchs and fish for sell. His mother, Cornetta, who just turned 101 last January, said she remembers when it was 75 cents for a few conchs or a few fish. Cornetta said she waited to start dinner until Albert came home with his catch.
“Mom used to turn on the stove and she said there better be a fish ready by the time the oil is hot,” Mercedes said.
Along with his sunny nature, Albert played some key parts in island history. He was the first black Bishop in Monroe County for the Church of God of Prophecy and a role model to many. Cornetta said she remembers how the beach where Albert set up shop used to be a different place.
“I am an Old Key Wester. It used to be an all black beach. We called it Whitehead Beach,” Cornetta said.
African Americans were only allowed on the stretch of beach from the Southernmost Point to the Fort. With desegregation, Neff said, it opened to everyone — white and black, fishermen, families and kids.
The statue commemorates not only Albert, but also his time in history, according to Bruce Neff of Key West Historic Marker Tours. Neff , Michael Shields of Art in Public Places, and the City of Key West all played a critical role in pursuing funding for the statue.
The statue was designed by 30- year resident of Bahama Village, and good friend of Albert, Tom Joris. When designing the statue his goal was to make it understandable and accessible to the average person and have it embrace qualities of grace, beauty and humanity that Albert exuded.