Dr. Regis O'Keefe's story is one marked by humble beginnings. His father died when he was five years old. His mother worked at Kauffman's department store—a position she retained until she was in her 70's—to support the family, and she raised him and his two brothers. O'Keefe notes that her example instilled a strong foundation of resilience and the importance of family and community.
O'Keefe attended Baldwin High School, then only serving students in eleventh and twelfth grades, at the height of Pittsburgh's population boom. O'Keefe notes, "my graduating class had 988 students." In spite of the size, the school had a thriving community. "It was a large school but still an environment where you had the opportunity to get to know people. It also offered the chance to learn from some really great teachers who were really inspiring," says O'Keefe.
Many of O'Keefe's most vivid high-school memories are from the basketball court. He was a noteworthy player and was inducted into Baldwin's Sports Hall of Fame in 1977. When O'Keefe scored his 1,000th point they stopped the game and announced it—something he wasn't anticipating. His team, under coach George Mazur was very successful. O'Keefe recalls, "in my junior and senior year we won the section—for the first time in 8–10 years. We had the chance to play in the playoffs at Civic Area. Playing in a large arena with lots of people there was a real highlight. I remember walking out when we warming up for the first time and thinking, 'this is really amazing.'"
Sports taught O'Keefe valuable lessons. He shares, "one of the things that I learned playing sports is that you are never actually as good as you want to be. Ultimately, if you think about it in a certain sense, you will fail. You won't succeed to the degree you want to. You learn how to fail. Working hard, preparing, and putting everything out there is what is valuable: working toward goals with integrity, commitment, and drive. Even if you fall short of where you want to be, that's the measure of success that you've played the game." O'Keefe said that lesson served him well in his professional life to follow.
After completing undergraduate studies at Yale University, he earned a medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1985, completed a surgical internship through Harvard Medical School at New England Deaconess Hospital in 1986, earned doctoral degrees from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in 2000, then served as the chair of the Department of Orthopaedics at the University of Rochester for 12 years. He has served in leadership positions on several major national orthopaedic organizations, including president of the Orthopaedic Research Society and President of the American Orthopaedic Association. He now serves as chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Washington University School of Medicine. In his current role, his unit provides more than 190,000 patient-visits and 17,000 surgical procedures per year. With over 280 publications, his laboratory is currently defining the role of stem cells in fracture-healing and determining how epigenetic changes in the structure of DNA lead to the development of osteoarthritis. This year, O'Keefe was inducted into the The Distinguished Highlander Hall of Fame.
O'Keefe and his wife Carol live in St. Louis and have four children.