Friday, November 18, 2016

Marie Kelleher, dies at 103, First US 100+ USMS Swimmer

Posted: Tuesday, November 15, 2016 10:30 pm

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 electrical business.  
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 career.
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.
Mrs. 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 Society.
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 age-group records.
The people you meet (in masters swimming) are so nice; theyre wonderful people, Mrs. Kelleher said in a 1998 profile in The Times-Dispatch. Id 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 SwimRVAs Hall of Inspiration at its aquatic complex in Chesterfield County.
What Marie 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.
She was 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 wasnt 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 her well.
She enjoyed 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 ODonnell 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.

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