Denis P. Kelleher, an accomplished Irish-American business executive and philanthropist who built two leading independent financial services firms, served as the President of Sequoia Fund, and received The Ellis Island Medal of Honor, died at age 80 on November 22, 2019 at his home in Staten Island, New York. His death was announced by his son, Sean Kelleher, who succeeded him as President of Wall Street Access.
“My father was a larger-than-life figure who touched the lives of many through his business success and commitment to giving back to the community. He embodied the American entrepreneurial spirit, bringing integrity, dedication, and experience to work every day to drive our success,” said Sean Kelleher. “Our family will miss him dearly and commit ourselves to carrying on the extraordinary legacy and values he leaves behind.”
Born in 1939 in County Kerry, Ireland, Mr. Kelleher came to New York City in 1958 seeking a better life with little more than the clothes on his back. He took to heart the idea that with education and hard honest work anyone can realize the American dream. With that in mind, 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 received a Doctor of Commercial Science degree from St. John’s University in 1965, where he later served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees for a number of years and played a key role in funding the Kelleher Center at the Staten Island Campus, and an honorary Doctorate from the National University of Ireland.
Mr. Kelleher became a partner in 1969 at investment firm Ruane Cunniff & Co., Inc., best known as the advisor and distributor of Sequoia Fund for which he served as President and Treasurer. With his entrepreneurial spirit, he founded one of the first discount brokerage firms, Discount Brokerage Corporation of America, in 1976.
Mr. Kelleher founded Wall Street Clearing, later renamed Wall Street Access, in 1981, instilling “family first” as its cultural bedrock, and stressing the importance of balance, diversification, collaboration, and most importantly compassion in all matters. “In a family, you are not trying to hit the home run and be done,” he said. “You are in it for the long haul, and when one succeeds, we all succeed.” Today, it is a diversified financial services firm in New York that includes Kelleher Financial Advisors, a wealth management advisor launched about 1990 and led by his daughter, Colleen Kelleher Sorrentino.
Despite his success, Mr. Kelleher never forgot his roots and humble beginnings. 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. An active philanthropist, he served as a Director of the Staten Island Foundation and worked as a long-time parishioner of St. Ann’s R.C. Church in Dongan Hills, where his wife was a parish trustee and currently serves on the finance committee. A
strong advocate for educational causes, he founded and spearheaded the creation of New World Preparatory Charter School in 2010. He was also one of the benefactors to the recent restoration of St Patrick’s Cathedral also an ardent supporter of the Inner-City Scholarship Fund of the Archdiocese of New York.
In addition to his philanthropic work on Staten Island, Mr. Kelleher established the St. Brendan’s American Foundation and served as the Treasurer of the Irish Historical Society; an economic development adviser to the Prime Minister of Ireland; the Grand Marshal of the 2005 New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade; and was named to the Irish-American Hall of Fame. He was also a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Mr. Kelleher is survived by his wife, the former Carol Cieslewicz, daughter Colleen and her husband Dr. Robert Sorrentino, son Denis and his wife Rachel, son Sean and his wife Wendy, and eight grandchildren--Bobby, Maggie, Jack, Caroline, Dylan, Zoe, Denis and Alex.
About Wall Street Access
Since 1981, Wall Street Access has combined an independent, entrepreneurial culture with a powerful platform to build and operate a diverse set of successful financial services businesses. From execution services, fixed income and securities research to wealth management, our firm has the expertise, depth, flexibility and capital to quickly seize emerging opportunities. Wall Street Access has successfully evolved through many market cycles while always remaining a trusted and reliable partner for our clients.