They will bury Kerry native Denis Kelleher in the same cemetery in Staten Island where Irish Famine victims were reinterred a few short years ago. Even in death Denis will be among his own, a man who typified what those famine victims were seeking - a new life and opportunity in America. 

Kelleher, who died last Friday aged 80, did as much as anyone to keep their memories alive.

He came to America with less than $50 to his name and built his company, Wall Street Access, one of the major brokerage firms, into a multi-million dollar business. 

But making money was only one aspect of Denis.  Giving back and helping out was every bit as important, while wife Carol and their three children and several grandchildren always came first.

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I first met Denis Kelleher at a fundraiser in the Manhattan Club in New York City to help Irish undocumented immigrants.  It was the late 1980s and tens of thousands of Irish were flooding in from Ireland in the age-old tradition of forced emigration because of a lack of jobs and a severe economic downturn.

The late great Denis Kelleher.

The late great Denis Kelleher.

Denis stood out that night as the vast majority of those present were hard-working construction, bartending, nannies and waitressing types, the heart and soul of the Irish in America.

Denis was very different, a massive Wall Street success story but even then making it clear that he wasn't one of those Irish who forgot where he came from.

At the business end of the meeting, Denis was first to write a generous check and make clear he was available to help however he could.

His support was critical in getting a fair deal for those immigrants, and Denis made it clear from the very beginning that he was not one to pull the ladder up after his own success and forget about the next generation.

I got to know this remarkable man after that night and have called him a friend for over 30 years.

I also called on him many times on business matters for his advice and judgment which was always deeply insightful.  On issues such as the Irish peace process and immigration, he was always first to help out. His dream was a better Ireland for all and that has been realized.

One of his proudest moments was in 2005 when he was named grand marshal of the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York, the largest single honor an Irish person can seek. 

Denis Kelleher Grand Marshal of the 2005 St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Denis Kelleher Grand Marshal of the 2005 St. Patrick's Day Parade.

He did his country and his Kerry roots proud that day, stepping off at the head of a parade watched by several million.

Denis always advised to look at life as a journey, not a destination.  But that March 17, 2005 day the son of humble farming stock had undoubtedly arrived in America.

The generosity of spirit and the determination to never forget his own background is what defined him. He was that rare Irishman who lived the American dream all in one generation.

Typically the emigrant gets a job, works hard for the next generation and sees them off to college, and then their kids become the truly successful ones.

Denis was one of a very small handful who did all that in one leap, from emigrant to Wall Street titan.

When you stood in his corner office on Battery Place you looked out over New York Harbor and saw Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, all the great American landmarks. It was then that you realized the extent of his remarkable journey.

Then there was Denis the devoted family man with his wonderful wife Carol and kids and grandkids. There was a light in his eyes always when he discussed family, and like his rock solid Catholic faith they were a huge part of his success story.

There was also Denis the extraordinary charitable man who has aided countless worthy charities from those in his native land to underprivileged kids in his home borough of Staten Island.

A tough and hard-charging businessman and brilliant negotiator, Kelleher combined that business judgment with his humanitarian instinct to reach out and help others who encountered this extraordinary man and learned many life lessons from him.

I am lucky to be among those people.  I will never see his likes again.

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Denis Kelleher, his wife Carol, daughter-in-law Wendy and son Sean at Irish America magazine’s Wall Street 50 dinner in 2010.Irish Voice / Nuala Purcell)