BRADFORD — Helen Kelleher died peacefully on Friday at Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport, four days shy of her 97th birthday. She leaves behind many people who will be forever in her debt.
Helen Bernadette Gavin Kelleher was born in Haverhill in 1915. Her mother Bridgette Roche Gavin died when she was three. After she had lived several happy years with her grandparents, Helen’s father remarried. The family experienced poverty, and her girlhood was spent during dark days of the Great Depression.
She met Hugh Kelleher of Newburyport not long before he left for World War II. Helen developed TB, and spent several years at a sanatorium, where she lost most of one lung. Her determination enabled her recovery, and by the 1950s, she and Hugh were raising their family of six sons in Haverhill. “I always wanted six boys,” she said frequently.
Helen’s generous heart told her that six sons were not enough. She and Hugh welcomed into their home two foster sons who remained forever dear to her. In addition to raising eight sons, Helen worked as a telephone operator, cafeteria worker, real estate agent, and at the Haverhill Library, and later with Merrimack Valley Elder Services. She retired from Elder Services at the age of 82, by which time she had become a trained paralegal. She was honored with a column in the Boston Globe by Mike Barnicle, and by proclamations from the Massachusetts Senate and House. She found retirement dull, and so at age 85 returned to work at Elder Services.
Her advice to her family was always clear-eyed and delivered with tangy humor. She encouraged people to pursue their dreams. Her optimism was tempered both by humor and realism. As she lay ill and was asked how she was doing, she replied: “So far, so good.” In her 90s, one of her favorite expressions was, “It’s been a great trip.”