Last Tuesday’s city council meeting in Colusa was a somber affair as city staff and councilmembers struggled to grasp the news that councilman Kirk Kelleher, 51, who had suffered a stroke at home on Monday, would never recover from his stroke and that he would be taken off life support the following day.
“I’d just like to briefly announce that we are absent two councilmembers tonight,” Mayor Greg Ponciano said in open the meeting, holding back tears. “One of which is Kirk Kelleher. Out of consideration for his family, I won’t go into details – but Kirk and his family could use any prayers that are available.”
Kelleher died the following morning, surrounded by family and friends at the Mercy San Juan Hospital in Carmichael. He was serving his third consecutive term on the city council and had just finished a year-long stint as mayor, prior to the most recent city council reorganization.
“He’s going to be missed as a council member. He’s obviously going to be missed as a citizen, too, but I’m personally going to miss having him on the council,” said City Manager Jesse Cain. “He was always easy to talk to, and he put in a lot of work to ensure that the city could be financially stable into the future.”
On Monday, Ponciano still struggled to find the words to describe Kelleher’s passing.
“I’d like to say that I really thought about what I was going to say today, but I… I still can’t really accept what’s happened,” Ponciano said, before adding with a laugh, “I’m still kind of hoping he’s holed up somewhere with Andy Kaufman… There’s going to be a big void there for a lot of people.”
The City Council will decide how to fill Kelleher’s position at their meeting on Feb. 6, Ponciano said. They can either make an appointment in 60 days from his passing or hold a special election.
“It’s going to be really difficult moving forward without him,” Ponciano said. “He had so much vision and he saw things out in front of us and saw things coming that nobody else could see.”
For Ponciano and many others in the community, Kelleher’s passing meant much more than losing a long-time city councilmember. Ponciano grew up with Kelleher: The two were just a year apart when they made their way through the Colusa Unified School District.
“We ran in different circles when we were younger, but all circles in a little town cross over,” Ponciano said. “Moving onto the council part, he’s the reason I ran for council in the first place. But you could probably talk to 1,000 people in town, 100 people or whatever, and the first sentence would start, ‘Kirk’s the reason…’ because he influenced so many people. This may sound really small-town to say this, but unless you were in the community and were kind of intimate with what Kirk did, it’s really hard to describe.”
Dick Armocido, who worked with Kelleher in his role as a Colusa Planning Commissioner and as a member of the Chamber of Commerce, said that he was one of the most involved and caring people in the community.
“I probably respected him the highest of anyone on the city council,” Armocido said. “His terms as mayor were fantastic, and his concern for the community was genuine. I tell ya, he was one of my all-time favorites, and he was in it for everyone in the city. It’s devastating that we lost an outstanding person like Kirk.”
Armocido added that Kelleher would not only be missed as a public servant, but also as a businessman. He was the co-owner Kelleher Paint – a mainstay in the Colusa business community. Even when he was busy running the business with his brother, Peter, Kelleher never checked his role as a city councilman at the door. He was always readily available to talk city matters.
“Kelleher Paint was ‘City Hall North.’” Ponciano said. “Everything went through there.”
“I don’t think you can replace somebody like him,” Armocido said. “He was an everyday councilmember, where you could go into the store any time to discuss a city issue.”
Ponciano described one such issue that Kelleher first heard about at the store, where a group of concerned citizens approached Kelleher to do something a growing number of homeless people in town.
“Rather than just taking a stance, he gets on his bike and he takes a ride, and he meets every single one of them,” Ponciano said. “Learns their names, how they got there, where they’re from. He knew some of them already, but I mean, who does that? And then he would keep up with them. Every couple weeks he would make the rounds and take inventory of who was around and who wasn’t. He was completely invested in the community. That gets said a lot, but unless you knew Kirk, it’s hard to describe to what degree that was true.”■