Marie Kelleher, dies at 103, First US 100+ USMS Swimmer
Posted: Tuesday, November 15, 2016 10:30 pm
By JOHN REID BLACKWELL and CAROL HAZARD Richmond
Whether it was keeping things in order at the family
business or setting
records in competitive swimming, age was no obstacle for
Marie Krafft Kelleher. Even after she
reached age 100, Mrs. Kelleher —blessed with good eyesight and a spotless driving
record —drove to work
daily at Kelleher Corp., the Richmond-based heating, cooling, plumbing and
A swimmer since her childhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., and
Alexandria, Mrs. Kelleher took up amateur competitive swimming at age 65 to
keep herself physically sharp after retiring from her first professional
She continued to swim and participate in amateur meets
for another 35-plus years and, in 2012, became the first woman in the U.S. to
swim competitively in the 100-104 age group.
Kelleher —who died
Monday at her home in the CrossRidge community in Henrico County, about one
month shy of her 104th birthday —was remembered by friends and family on Tuesday as an
inspiring but humble woman.
“She had a
tough last year, but 103 good ones,”said Ed Kelleher, one of her four sons and former
deputy news editor at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
While raising a family of five children in Richmond,
where she moved in 1938 after marrying her husband, Mrs. Kelleher worked at the
Muscular Dystrophy Society, the American Cancer Society and the Easter Seal
She retired as regional director of the Easter Seal
Society in 1977 but remained active with the Kelleher family business, where
she had always served as corporate secretary and handled correspondence and
most of the paperwork. When her husband died in 2006, she was voted chairwoman
of the company.
It was her daughter who encouraged Mrs. Kelleher to
take up amateur competitive swimming, signing her up for her first swim meet.
“I got hooked,”Mrs. Kelleher
said in a 2013 interview with The Times-Dispatch. Often with her children and
grandchildren cheering her on poolside, she continued to compete in Virginia
and through U.S. Masters Swimming, a nonprofit group that organizes swim meets
around the country.
Mrs. Kelleher set several national and international
“The people you
meet (in masters swimming) are so nice; they’re wonderful
said in a 1998 profile in The Times-Dispatch. “I’d have to say
I enjoy that part of it —the sociable part —as much, if
not more, than I enjoy the actual swimming.”
In August, Mrs. Kelleher was among the first five
people inducted into SwimRVA’s Hall of
Inspiration at its aquatic complex in Chesterfield County.
meant to us is you can accomplish anything you want to accomplish no matter what
your age might be,”said Adam
Kennedy, executive director of SwimRVA, a nonprofit that owns and operates the
Collegiate School Aquatics Center in Chesterfield.
Mrs. Kelleher was “a total hero for many of us,”said Nancy
Miller, a Powhatan County resident who coached her in swimming for about 20
years as part of a masters swimming group at what is now the Weinstein JCC.
Mrs. Kelleher also often rose early in the morning to swim at the Tuckahoe YMCA
off Patterson Avenue.
mild-mannered and wonderful to everyone, until you put her on a starting block
(at a swim meet), and then she was a tremendous competitor,”Miller said. “She was no
holds barred. She would just go after it with all she had.”
“She was an
excellent athlete,”Miller said. “It wasn’t just because
she was older that she got the records. She was a beautiful swimmer. She was
light and graceful in the water. She could do all the strokes very well. She
paid attention to technique to make herself as efficient as possible.”
Mrs. Kelleher was the sort of swimmer who did it for
personal satisfaction rather than awards or attention, said Dave Holland, past
chairman of the Virginia Local Masters Swimming Committee.
“Here she was,
swimming at the age of 100, and she was not complaining about it,”he said. “I just thought
she was really tough.”
In 2012, Mrs. Kelleher suffered a mild stroke but,
after weeks of rehabilitation, got back into the pool, and back to work.
“I was frankly
amazed that she was able to come back from the stroke and swim at that level,”Ed Kelleher said.
He described his mother as a strong woman with a
super-positive attitude. “She never smoked, never drank, never even drank cola
or coffee,”he said. She
liked milk, orange juice and water. “She believed in a healthy lifestyle, and she lived it —and it served
life and all aspects of it —spiritual and business,”Ed Kelleher said.
Besides her four sons, survivors include her two
brothers, Joseph Krafft of Alexandria and Frank J. Krafft of Dumfries, and a
sister, Dorothy O’Donnell of Alexandria; and 13 grandchildren, two
stepgrandchildren and 29 great-grandchildren.
A memorial Mass will be said at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov.
26 at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, 4491 Springfield Road in Henrico.