Nov 9th, 2021

Kelleher Warming Fire

The universe works its magic in strange and interesting ways.  I had just sat down on a bench in the Central Garden with Erin Kelleher to learn more about Kelleher Heating and Oil and why, for the third year, they feel very passionate about sponsoring the Kelleher Warming Fire at Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights.

Family and friends gathered around the Kelleher Warming Fire

Sharing community, warmth and s’mores around the Kelleher Warming Fire at Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights. Image by Caroline Martin

What I learned made perfect sense.  Kelleher is all about warmth and community and, as a favorite gathering space to enjoy s’mores and hot cocoa with friends around the fire, the Kelleher Warming Fire is the perfect symbol of this.  I asked Kelleher to tell me what three words embody Kelleher Heating. At first, he was at a loss for words — sparked only by humbleness, not unknowing. And during this pause, within minutes of sitting down on a gorgeous fall day to chat, Kelleher turned to me and said, “Look at this guy!”

Erin Kelleher VP of Kelleher Heating and Oil in the Asian Valley.

Erin Kelleher, Senior Vice President of Kelleher Heating and Oil, while visiting the Asian Valley at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

Up walked a man dressed all in white with a white sun hat. Kelleher introduced him as Mike McNamara, a Kelleher employee for 49 years. McNamara and I shook hands, and I learned he is an avid fan of the Garden since retiring. As a Garden member since 2017, he visits daily to walk our grounds. Actually, his routines are a bit more ambitious. He takes two, hour-long walks each day: a morning walk at Maymont and an afternoon walk at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

I joked about the coincidence.  Then Kelleher turned to McNamara and repeated my question to him:  What three words embody Kelleher? McNamara’s response was swift and unhesitating: “Fairness. Generosity.  And loyalty.”

As a man who worked for the business for 49 years, I’d say McNamara knows a thing or two about loyalty himself.  Then, just as quickly as he arrived, he apologized for interrupting our meeting and went on his way.

The Kellehers : Mike Kelleher (left), with sonsPat Kelleher (center) and Joe Kelleher (right).

The Kellehers in the 1970s: Mike Kelleher (left), with sons Pat Kelleher (center) and Joe Kelleher (right).

Kelleher glanced around the Garden. “We grew up around here,” he said. My mom grew up on Brook Road by Mandarin Palace. My dad and his brothers grew up in Lakeside by the Belmont Golf Course. As boys, we played around the dam and [Lakeside] Lake near Jefferson Lakeside Country Club.”

With McNamara setting the stage, Kelleher began to talk more about the company and its history.

“It all goes back to my grandfather [Mike Kelleher]. He set the company culture on day one — and it’s all about treating people fairly,” he said. Kelleher explained that his grandfather felt the company he was working for wasn’t giving their customers the attention that he felt they deserved. “He thought he could do a better job so he left that company and took the oil truck driver, George, with him.” That was 1968. By 1969, his son, Kelleher’s father, had joined the company, and it became a family business. FIve family members currently work there.

“My grandfather was very customer-oriented. Extremely customer service-oriented,” Kelleher said.

Here at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, our core values are hospitality and integrity. You can read in our strategic plan that we value people as our greatest asset. It’s refreshing to find a person, and even rarer to find a company, as authentically people-oriented as this one. That’s why our partnership is magical. We are so grateful to Kelleher for bringing warmth and coziness to our guests during Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights.

George Noel, fondly known as "Little George" with the oil truck he uses to deliver oil to Kelleher customers

George Noel, the oil delivery driver who helped start the company, has worked for Keller Heating and  Oil for 53 years; and, to this day, he still delivers oil for the Kelleher company.  This photo was taken in the 1990s.

Meanwhile, George Noel, the oil delivery driver who helped start the company, ended up staying another 53 years. To this day, he still delivers oil for Kelleher. He’s probably the best-known, possibly most beloved, oil delivery driver in Richmond.  In fact, I remember meeting him in 1998 when he came to my house!

Jonah Holland is Digital Content Manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where she has worked for 14 years overseeing social media, the blog, and the website. She is also a mom, yogi, open water swimmer, gardener, and seeker. She's been known to go for a walk in the Garden and come back with hundreds of plant photos, completely inspired to write her next blog post.

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