The son of a farmer and cattleman, Donald Keough was born in 1926 in Maurice, Iowa. During the Great Depression, Keough's father lost most of his money in the cattle market. With a large mortgage on the farm property and no insurance, the family was forced to move when their home was accidentally destroyed in a fire. They began a new life in Sioux City. Remembering those difficult times, Keough said, "It must have been devastating for my father, but he never showed it. He was a great role model for me."
Keough's mother, who was caring and practical, directed her son toward debate in high school. He won a number of oratorical contests and graduated at age 16. In 1944, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and spent two years serving in a rehabilitation center. After his discharge, he enrolled at Creighton University on the GI bill. He graduated in 1949.
After working for a radio and television station, Keough became an advertising manager for a food company. In 1964, the business was acquired by Coca-Cola Company, which merged in 1967 with Minute-Maid to form the Coca-Cola Company Foods Division. Keough served there as the vice president and marketing director. Within four years, he was the division's president.
In 1973, Keough moved to Coca-Cola's headquarters in Atlanta, where he served as executive vice president of Coca-Cola USA. A year later, he was named president. At the time of his Horatio Alger Award in 1988, Keough was president, chief operating officer, and director of the worldwide Coca-Cola Company. Of his steady rise up the corporate ladder, Keough said, "You must work hard to grow as an individual, do your work as well as you can, and set standards of excellence for yourself. You don't just arrive at a place. You are in a constant process of trying, achieving, developing, and growing. Success is a journey, not a destination."
Keough, who retired from Coca-Cola in 1993, received many honors in his career, including the University of Notre Dame's highest honor, the Laetare Medal. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002, and he was inducted into the Junior Achievement National Business Hall of Fame in 2003.
Of his membership in the Horatio Alger Association, Keough said, "I am especially pleased with the growth of the scholarship program. Our momentum to reach youngsters who need our support is accelerating, which is a good thing."
Keough advised young people to set short-term goals. "That way, you get the joy of victory more often," he said. "Many people get frustrated because their goals are too big and they take too long to achieve. There is no substitution for hard work and passion for what you do."