ITHF mourns the loss of Kelleher

June 21, 2012

NEWPORT, R.I. — The Board of Directors and Staff of the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum mourns the loss of Judge Robert J. Kelleher, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000. Judge Kelleher passed away yesterday at the age of 99. He was the oldest serving federal judge in the nation. Judge Kelleher played an instrumental role in the development of the Open Era of tennis, and he was a a Davis Cup leader for the United States.

In 1970, President Richard M. Nixon appointed Kelleher to be a U.S. district court judge for the Central District of California in Los Angeles. He assumed senior status in 1983 and he continued to hear cases into his 90s. Kelleher was a graduate of Williams College and Harvard Law School.

Kelleher served as president of the United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) in 1967-68, which was a crucial time in the sport. In 1968, he helped usher in the Open Era of tennis, ultimately creating the opportunity for tennis players to make a living and build careers playing the sport. Prior to his presidency, major tennis tournaments were closed to professional players and prize money was not offered. Kelleher was instrumental in changing this system, thus allowing anyone to play and instituting legitimate prize money in tournaments. He also participated extensively in the activities of the Southern California Tennis Association. In 2000, Kelleher was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in the Contributor Category in recognition of his work on Open tennis, which essentially laid the foundation for the professional tennis industry we know today.

Kelleher served as captain of the United States Davis Cup team in 1962 and 1963, winning the title in 1963. His distinguished career in tennis began when he was ball boy at Forest Hills, where the U.S. National Lawn Tennis Championships were played. He went on to serve as assistant referee of the U.S. Championships. Kelleher was the New England Intercollegiate Doubles Champion in 1933 and won the Eastern Collegiate Doubles the same year. He won the Canadian Mixed Doubles championship in 1947 with his wife Gracyn Wheeler Kelleher. In addition, he was a three-time doubles champion at the U.S. Hard Court Championships for the 45s age group.