Keith Cole grew up in Cairns, attended the local high school, and became the first in his family to attend university. Trained in physics and mathematics, he taught in secondary schools before joining the 1956 Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition to Macquarie Island as Auroral Physicist. This was the start of his lifelong career in space physics, exploring primarily the space environment of the Earth. He had a remarkable ability to identify the important physical processes underlying many phenomena, often when only limited data or observations were available. Thus early in his career he correctly explained several puzzling phenomena, particularly in the ionosphere and thermosphere, and quickly established himself as a leader in space physics, a position he maintained throughout his career. He also made very significant contributions as an educator (he was a Foundation Professor of Physics at La Trobe University) and through leadership positions in national and international science organizations.