William F. Keough, one of the 52 hostages held for 444 days at the U.S. Embassy in Iran, died at his home here yesterday after a four-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. He was 55.
A longtime school administrator, Mr. Keough was superintendent of the American International School in Islamabad, Pakistan, and was visiting the embassy in Tehran when it was seized by militant Iranian students Nov. 4, 1979.
Most recently, Mr. Keough worked from his Washington home as director of overseas schools for the U.S. Department of Education.
Mr. Keough, who was threatened with death in front of a firing squad while in captivity, remained resolute after his release in his belief that the former hostages should try to put their experiences behind them and move forward to live a normal life.
"We want to shake being a hostage off like a dog shakes water off coming out of a pond," he said at one point. "The American public has to, too. I think everybody in my family is ready to move on. It's over."
A native of Massachusetts, he graduated from Boston College and was superintendent of schools in Burlington, Vt., and Bedford, Mass.
During the protracted hostage crisis, Mr. Keough's wife Katherine, who lived in Alexandria, met privately in New York with the Iranian prime minister on behalf of the hostages' families.
Mr. Keough, a formidable figure at 6-foot-9, appeared to call upon his experience as a school administrator when he spoke at a press conference after his return from Iran. Observers described his style as low-keyed and somewhat verbose, and noted he was careful to avoid controversy.
A year after his return, he was diagnosed as having the incurable, degenerative disease of the nervous system.
Katherine Keough said her husband had felt deeply about the experiences of more recent victims of terrorist incidents.
"Once you have been involved in international terrorism, you feel a great degree of immediacy with others who are in similar situations," she said, "a great degree."
In addition to his wife, Mr. Keough is survived by two daughters and a son from a previous marriage, his mother and a brother.