Denis P. Kelleher, an accomplished Irish-American business executive and philanthropist who built two leading independent financial services firms, received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and served as grand marshal of the 2005 New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, died Nov. 22 at his home on Staten Island. He was 80.
Cardinal Dolan served as principal celebrant and homilist of the Funeral Mass Dec. 2 at St. Ann’s Church, Staten Island. Father Joy Mampilly, pastor of St. Ann’s, was among the priest concelebrants.
Father Mampilly, speaking with CNY, remembered Kelleher as a longtime, loyal parishioner and a man of faith. “His faith in God was unshakable. His faith in the Church was unquestionable. His faith in his family was very much love-filled. And his faith in himself was so rewarding.”
Kelleher, his pastor said, wanted to be remembered as a giving person rather than as a receiving person. “He gave generously and quietly.”
As Kelleher’s health declined, Father Mampilly brought the Eucharist to his home every Sunday. “He was so grateful. He used to say receiving Communion would set the tone for his day.”
Born in County Kerry, Ireland, he came to New York City in 1958 seeking a better life with little more than the clothes on his back. He put himself through night school while working up the ranks from his first job as messenger at Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith.
He spent two years in the U.S. Army and earned a doctor of commercial science degree from St. John’s University, where he later served as chairman of the board of trustees and played a key role in funding the Kelleher Center at the Staten Island campus.
He became a partner in 1969 at investment firm Ruane Cunniff & Co. Inc., known as the adviser and distributor of Sequoia Fund for which he served as president and treasurer. He founded one of the first discount brokerage firms, Discount Brokerage Corporation of America, in 1976.
He founded Wall Street Clearing, later renamed Wall Street Access, in 1981, stressing the importance of balance, diversification, collaboration and, most importantly, compassion in all matters. Today, it is a diversified financial services firm in New York that includes Kelleher Financial Advisors, a wealth management adviser.
In 1995, he received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor for his dedication to serving the Staten Island community and honoring his ethnic heritage as he upheld the ideals and spirit of America. He also served as a director of the Staten Island Foundation.
He was a benefactor for the recent restoration of St Patrick’s Cathedral and an ardent supporter of the Inner-City Scholarship Fund of the Archdiocese of New York. He served on the board of directors of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade for 35 years.
He established the St. Brendan’s American Foundation and served as treasurer of the Irish Historical Society. He was an economic development adviser to the prime minister of Ireland and named to the Irish-American Hall of Fame. He was also a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan.
He is survived by his wife, the former Carol Cieslewicz; a daughter, Colleen Kelleher Sorrentino; two sons, Denis and Sean; and eight grandchildren.
Interment was at Moravian Cemetery on Staten Island.