Neil W. Kelleher, 85, a former mayor of Troy and City Council member who also served in the state Assembly, died Thursday morning at St. Mary’s Hospital after a brief illness.
Kelleher, a Republican, entered politics in 1954, when he was appointed 17th Ward alderman in Troy. It was the start of a long political career.
After serving one term as alderman, he pulled an upset in the 1960 mayoral contest against Democrat John Purcell. Kelleher served one term as mayor and was elected as 100th District assemblyman in 1965.
Kelleher served as chairman of the Assembly Republican Conference.
School children in his district often received letters from him for their special achievements, or participated in guided tours he led of the Capitol.
“Neil earned his reputation as a go-to guy one phone call at a time. People throughout Troy and Rensselaer County knew that if they needed help, they could always turn to Neil Kelleher,” said county Legislator Jim Brearton.
Kelleher decided not to seek re-election to the Assembly in 1992 after 13 terms. He continued his public service, however, as a member of the Troy Housing Authority board and as a commissioner with the state Board of Elections.
“Big Neil was truly a man of the people. He was always there to lend a hand, help out a cause big or small or give a boost to somebody who needed a break,” said county Legislature Majority Leader Robert Mirch.
Kelleher was born and raised in North Troy and attended St. Augustine’s and Lansingburgh schools. He joined his father and two brothers to harmonize as a barbershop quartet for local talent contests, Vaudeville productions and major radio shows. The group had a screen test with 20th Century Fox, but the movie deal was canceled when one of the sons had a change of voice.
Shortly after Pearl Harbor, he joined the Navy, participating in three years of heavy fighting in the Pacific. Kelleher’s duties included command of a rescue boat that help downed pilots and air crews, and manning anti-aircraft guns against kamikaze missions.
After the war, Kelleher worked at Cartwright Ford in Lansingburgh.
He is survived by three grown children, Timothy, Tracy and Neil Jr. — chairman of the Rensselaer County Legislature — and six grandchildren.
A wake will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. Sunday at the Sanvidge Funeral Home at 115th Street and Fourth Avenue in Lansingburgh. Funeral services will be at 9:30 a.m. Monday from St. Augustine’s Church in Lansingburgh.