Preserving Florida’s heritage
CAROLINE McKEON ’72
Singer CAROLINE McKEON ’72 performs with her band, Eclipse, in 1984. Now her work is behind-the-scenes as a filmmaker drawing attention to Florida’s ecosystem. View some of her work at floridajourneys.com.
Growing up in faraway places like Iceland and Japan, what could be a better dream job than working for the Travel Channel? Born in Puerto Rico to an Army colonel and his wife, it might be easiest to list the places where CAROLINE McKEON ’72 has not lived. She has worked in Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., Miami, and, midway along her career path, in Atlanta as program acquisitions manager for the Travel Channel.
McKeon graduated from high school in the U.S. — in a small town near Niagara Falls. She fell in love with Bradley during a campus visit. A psychology major with an English minor, it was a by-chance, extracurricular activity that led to her first real career.
“I wasn’t sleeping very well at night, and there was a woman down the hall, JULIE RADER SCHONBRUN ’72, who played guitar,” says McKeon, recalling junior year when she and some sorority sisters lived in Williams Hall. “Julie and I would sing together, and she had a second guitar so I learned to play. The next year Williams started its coffeehouse in the basement, so that was our debut.”
Planning to delay graduate school, McKeon accepted a job working for a Chicago media director in the Loop. That first blizzardy Chicago winter became her last — she packed her bags for Florida where her parents had retired. “It turned out to be a wonderful switch in terms of the way my life unfolded,” says McKeon. It was there, in the Sarasota area, that she became a performer.
“I was doing Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt, and Dan Fogelberg. By 1979, I had grown more as an artist and started writing a lot more material, so I went to New York,” McKeon explains. “I worked in a health food store and then did Showcases at night. You meet so many people with such incredible talent. After a year, I realized that living there was a whole different ballgame than living in Florida.”
When she returned to Sarasota, the Magic Moment nightclub asked McKeon to put together a house band. The group, Eclipse, drew a large following and almost landed a record deal, but McKeon was the first member to depart. “I was 35, and I remember having a flash of ‘I don’t want to be 40 and be playing in a club somewhere.’”
Leaving the music business proved to be an uneasy transition. “Music was my passion. It was almost like going through a divorce,” McKeon shares. Moving on wasn’t a breeze either. As an entry-level employee at subsequent jobs, McKeon was older than her bosses and coworkers. She worked for an advertising agency in Miami for awhile and, in 1988, moved to Washington, D.C., after visiting her brother there.
Television production was the focus of her next career. During the making of a music video for Eclipse, McKeon’s interest in filmmaking had been piqued. She landed a job in post-production, but persisted in applying at the relatively new Discovery Channel. Eventually she was hired and became senior coordinator of development and co-production. “It really is a fine organization. I learned so much there,” she remarks. From there, McKeon moved on to the Travel Channel.
Shortly after returning to Sarasota again in 1995, her life changed once more after reading a magazine article about Florida “saving its sense of place.”
“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit,” she says. Using her communications background, McKeon made it her goal to promote the “preservation of the natural and cultural gems of Florida’s heritage.” When the Florida State Park System was named best in the nation in 2000, it credited McKeon’s video with securing the honor. Her company, Florida Journeys Communications, also has a video for Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute to its credit. It has a three-year contract with the Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program.
Recently reconnecting with old college friends —“people I knew when life was all a possibility”— has been gratifying for the 58-year-old filmmaker. Just a couple of blocks from Sarasota Bay, she has turned the front yard of her small house into a butterfly garden. “It feels really good to be here. I don’t look back wishing there were things I would have done,” she reports. “Life is good.”