Honoring Professor Bill Kelleher


A memorial for Anthropology Professor Bill Kelleher, who passed away last fall, will be held Friday, February 28, at 3 pm in Hendricks Chapel. This special service will be followed by a reception in the Maxwell School’s Founders Room.

William Francis Kelleher, a cultural anthropologist and scholar of Northern Ireland, died in Syracuse on September 18, 2013. He was a member of the parish council at St. Lucy’s Church and a lifelong advocate for peace, education, and justice. He served on the board of the Syracuse Model Neighborhood Facility and provided assistance to former inmates transitioning to life after prison. Bill was beloved by students at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, where he taught from 1990 until 2005, and at Syracuse University, where he taught for eight years in the Maxwell School.

Bill was born on August 12, 1950, the eldest child of William F. Kelleher, a Boston firefighter, and Marjorie (Mitchell) Kelleher. He grew up in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, where he attended Catholic Memorial High School. Throughout his life, Bill cherished his boyhood friendships and the Boston Red Sox. He began his academic career at Colby College, then worked on the docks and as a hospital orderly before completing his B.A. at the University of Massachusetts in 1976.

As a graduate student at the University of Michigan, Bill carried out fieldwork in Northern Ireland during the 1980s, at the very height of the Troubles. His research focused on the effects of long-term political violence on everyday life and the work of historical memory in reproducing such violence. Bill’s compelling insights were presented in his book, The Troubles in Ballybogoin: Memory and Identity in Northern Ireland (University of Michigan Press, 2003). In recent years, Bill’s research focused on the ethnography of race and class in American higher education. He taught courses on colonialism and post-colonialism, religion, politics, Europe, and North America. 

Dr. David Edwards, Professor in the Social Sciences at Williams College, remembers Bill from their days together at Michigan: “Bill not only helped me get through grad school, he helped me see the beauty and fascination of the disciplinary path we had both chosen. He was a teacher at his core, and he had the ability to understand and convey what really mattered in the books and ideas we studied. For that, and for much more, I will always be grateful to him.” Dr. Sarah Phillips, Bill’s former student and now Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University, put it this way: “You have modeled for generations of students how to practice a meaningful engaged anthropology. The lessons I learned from you are ones I am now privileged to share with my own students.” 

Bill is survived by his beloved wife of 27 years, Jo Thomas; his daughters, Susan and Kathleen; his brother Dennis and sisters, Nancy Kelleher, Joan Casey, and Janet Harter; and his stepmother, Margaret Kelleher.