Personal Legacies: Celebrating My Dad’s 93 Years

My mother and father. My dad’s thoughts on pursuing passion: “Learn about it, write about it.”

Today, 93 years ago, the world welcomed the original nature advocate, my father Leo Kelleher (Popee to his grandchildren). To better understand his philosophies, we first take a look at another nature advocate—his brother-in-law,Thomas Berry.

Thomas Berry was my uncle and was a teacher to thousands about the mystery and awe of the universe.  He taught at Columbia and Fordham Universities.  While he lived in New York for much of his life, he visited his favorite little sister, my Mom,  whenever he came to town.  He would come to discuss the mysteries of the Universe in our den with my Dad, Leo Kelleher.

Thomas Berry was a Passionist monk known for his books The Great Work and The Dream Of The Earth.  He was a great mind and a had a deep spirituality that may take centuries for everyone to catch up with.  He would have likely gone unnoticed in the world if my Dad hadn’t prodded him into writing.  My Dad is as Irish as they get and taught “Brother” (as his family called him) the importance of The Story (the narrative that intrigues your audience) in relating ones thoughts.

Thomas then began everything he wrote with the story of The Meadow.  In what became a tract development of small homes for soldiers returning from WWII, the Meadow was to Thomas an enchanting place where he first became significantly aware of his surroundings.  The depth of this moment in his life needs to be read in his words.  I could never do it justice.

The importance of the moment to Thomas was an awareness of the land and everything it provided.  While my Dad did not always agree with the conclusions Thomas came up with, they were of substance because Thomas Berry lived what he taught.  Leo Kelleher still  doesn’t care what your passion is.  His advice is to learn about it, write about it.  That’s where the human and the natural come together for him.

My Dad had been tuned into Nature all his life.  He and my Mom were a great match.  Leo Kelleher was a second generation scrap metal recycler and in fact had a great hand in the early environmental changes the industry adopted in the 1960′s.  My Grandad was a pioneer in the recycling business before him.

I’ll tell you the kind of parents my Mom and Dad were.  When my older brothers and I were growing up we spent every waking moment possible outdoors.  We were very active and a handful to adults I’m sure.

Near Thomas Berry’s Meadow, we had a lake at the bottom of a dead end street that served the local textile mill.  In the winter we would ice skate on the lake.   In the spring they would drain the lake and with our Red Flyer wagons in tow we would hasten down to the narrow streams that were left after draining.   We scooped up the flopping giant carp, and put them in the wagon for the trip up the hill.  Once back to the house of course there was no water left in the wagons so we raced to my Mom’s bathtub and promptly filled it for our new catch.

The first time we did this, when my parents got back home my sister rushed to them to tell on us.  My parents climbed the stairs, looked into the bathtub at the carp, and without hesitation my mother calmly said,” I think they’ll do better in your Dad’s bathtub in the basement.”  My Mom was Nature’s best friend.  Mom and Dad were a great team.  There was no Nature Deficit Disorder in my house.  They were Stephen Kellert and Rich Louv’s ideal parents.

Leo Kelleher continues to urge young people to get involved in the world around them and pursue their passions.  Thomas Berry left volumes of thought for the world to ponder for centuries.  And it all began in my parents den.

Happy birthday, Popee!

93-years young!

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