Dr. David Keulen, 1951-2022, fighter for universal single-payer healthcare.

A couple of Friday mornings ago, on one of his regular Friday morning bike rides at Huntington Beach’s Overlook Park, with a couple of his closest high school friends, Dr. David J. Keulen had a heart attack and passed away. There was a family history of such things, but with his healthy lifestyle he outlasted his forbears! Dave was 71, he was formerly my doctor, and he was one of my best friends.

It was probably 1999 when he first came to one of my shows, and I don’t think he missed a concert of mine after that. Five years later when we started the OC chapter of the single-payer group “Healthcare For All California,” Dave was one of our most active Huntington Beach members, holding meetings and events at his home.

He’d always been a passionate supporter of SINGLE PAYER healthcare. Obamacare increased access for a lot of people, but still left lots of gaps in coverage as well as wasting untold amounts of money making sure private insurers kept their profits. Keulen and HCA-OC were idealists fighting for the sort of coverage other civilized nations have, no matter how much we were told it’s politically impossible in the U$A.

And David lived and worked by his belief that every American has a right to high-quality health care. After he got his MD in 1983, he launched his business, Primedico, in low-income areas of OC – first Garden Grove then Stanton – worked long hours there and didn’t turn anyone away, for thirty years. With his patients he also emphasized the important of exercise and good nutrition, two other things he passionately believed in.

There were other things too that Dr. Keulen strongly believed in, lived for and fought for – the environment and the outdoors, where he spent as much time as he could; family, and community. He knew everybody on his street, and was always bringing his neighbors food he’d grown in his gardens. They all knew him – he was impossible to ignore or forget, 6’4″ with usually a dramatic hat and goatee, a deep voice, sense of humor and endless curiosity.

Dave was a Green Party member (most of the time) but not real partisan about it – he believed in the Green Party values and would support any politician – Democrat, Republican or independent, who espoused those values. In HB council races, those progressive and environmentalist candidates were generally Democrats, and he sometimes held town halls for them at his home.

Around ten years ago he sold Primedico, took a little time off (and learned to play trumpet), then started working at an urgent care facility for a federally qualified health center in HB, until his mother’s health got real bad and he had to stay home to take care of her. When she finally passed away, he wanted to go back to work again but the Covid pandemic had just hit, he was 69 by then, and it was a really bad idea.

I remember Dave at a huge Huntington Beach town hall in 2014, sticking up for Fire Pits! Do you remember that faux-controversy? Several influential wealthy Newport homeowners, with property on the beach, got sick of the “riff-raff” enjoying bonfires on the public property they considered their “front yard,” went to the powerful SC Air Quality Board where they found a sympathetic ear, and nearly succeeded in banning fire pits up and down the coast for a thousand miles, on bogus HEALTH pretexts. Well, Dave went up to the mike, identified himself as a doctor AND environmentalist, and ripped the Board a new one, not only putting to rest the health concerns but also rhapsodizing on the important beach-town ritual of the Bonfire.

Every December, inspired by the year he spent in Sweden as a young man, Dave would hold a “Glögfest.” (“Glög is the scandinavian word for mulled wine.) The Glögfest featured Glög, friends and family, lots of good food, me on piano (for the last two decades) and singing. We’d mix Xmas carols with Beatles and Stones; two high points were always Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” – Dave had a dozen copies of the sheet music and would belt out the bass part. In more recent years, attendees would scratch their heads as Dave and I performed our favorite Bob Dylan song, “Tangled Up in Blue.” Go ahead, take a few minutes and listen to it now, it’s a classic…

It was Dave Keulen who commissioned my ten “Songs of the OC Homeless,” which you may have heard. My upcoming concert will be in memory of him. Whenever I’d call him the last few years he’d be really excited about some brand new idea he’d just had, to make the world better – sometimes the ideas made more sense than others! He’d been most enthusiastic lately about filling the world with more bike paths, and bike lanes. And now he has finished his long, productive, colorful life, on a bike lane.

A lot of you out there probably know a lot more about Dave that I don’t know, so please add lots of comments. He is one of those legendary progressive local figures we’ve known, who lasted as long as they lasted, and now we must carry on their work.

Dave waves goodbye.

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.