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Catherine McArdle Kelleher – an Appreciation

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M at blossoms

By Nancy Gallagher

Catherine McArdle Kelleher was a force to be reckoned. At the University of Maryland, we know her best as a founding faculty member of the School of Public Policy (SPP, 1982), the founding director of the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM, 1985), the founding president of Women in International Security (WIIS, 1987), and as a College Park Professor at the end of her career. But her passion for advancing international security policy, elevating women’s standing in government and academia, and helping individual colleagues, students, and friends went well beyond that.  

Catherine Kelleher passed away on February 15, 2023, at Necitas, her assisted living care facility in Silver Spring, MD. The cause was complications from atrial fibrillation.

Catherine was the quintessential scholar-practitioner. She became a champion for women’s education and professional advancement during her undergraduate studies at Mount Holyoke College. As a Fulbright Fellow at the Free University of Berlin right before the wall went up, she studied deepening Cold War divisions and drove East German dissidents to freedom. At a time when few women earned advanced degrees, she completed a Ph.D. in political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She then became an Assistant Professor at Barnard College, teaching young “co-eds” how to think strategically about diplomacy and defense. None of this was easy, but Catherine’s drive and determination got it done.

Always looking for new challenges, Catherine rose through the academic ranks to become a full professor at the University of Denver in 1979 after serving on President Carter’s National Security Council staff. She was in the Military Strategy Department of the National War College when she interviewed to become one of four faculty tasked with creating an interdisciplinary School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. Few precedents for this endeavor existed in the early 1980s. Disciplinary divisions in academia were deep, and public affairs programs primarily focused on management and leadership of national and state-level governmental agencies, not international relations. Others had talked about doing something similar, but nobody had found a way through academic impediments to achieve it.

At CISSM’s 30th anniversary celebration, Catherine confessed that she never expected to be hired because she had abruptly ended her interview dinner by telling her prospective UMD colleagues the four things they needed to do, then excusing herself to run a war game. But the founding dean of what was then called the School of Public Affairs liked Catherine’s vision and her take-charge style, so he placed a bet on the “interdisciplinary gamble” she proposed. Instead of being established inside a traditional department as a place where theory could be applied to real world problems, or borrowing the time of faculty members whose “real” home was in disciplinary departments, the new School was an independent, albeit tiny, unit with its own faculty, students, and resources. It became one of the few places at UMD where faculty and students from across campus regularly discussed important issues of the day from a range of different perspectives. Catherine recalled that then and now, “lots of people speak the interdisciplinary lingo, but don’t practice it much. We do.”

As CISSM’s self-styled “founding mother,” Catherine envisioned the need for a new type of security policy research institution, then brought it to life. President Reagan’s rapid military build-up and his “evil empire” rhetoric was stoking concerns that conventional military confrontation in Europe could lead to a global nuclear war. Yet, few academics saw security policy as an appropriate subject for rigorous scholarly research or wanted to soil their reputations by trying to reason with government officials. Catherine was the only woman, and the sole academic from a public university, on a committee assembled to help leaders of major private foundations change the prevailing “bombs and bullets” approach to security studies. This group sought to educate future leaders to consider more fundamental questions about the appropriate scope and use of force as an instrument of foreign policy by a democracy, and to raise the caliber of independent advice available to senior government officials. Advice from Catherine and other members of this group convinced the Carnegie Corporation and the MacArthur Foundation to provide start-up funding for a network of academic centers where professors, researchers, and students would do rigorous interdisciplinary analysis of critical security challenges, then publish their findings, make presentations, and provide confidential advice in ways designed for maximum policy impact.

Catherine described CISSM as a “hubbing place,” where different types of people with diverse perspectives mixed ideas to create new approaches to security in a rapidly changing world. Her expertise involved European security policy and conventional arms control, but her interests ranged far further. Early collaborative projects at CISSM included research on defense spending with Mancur Olson in the UMD Economics Department, work on civil-military relations with Mady and David Segal of the Sociology Department, and a critical evaluation of nuclear deterrence with Frank Kerr (Astronomy and Astrophysics) and George Quester (Government and Politics).

Catherine also conceived of CISSM as an inspiration and an incubator for future leaders in international policy. She wanted students to get an early taste of how the research world and the policy world could interact constructively. She brought active duty military officers to spend a year at CISSM, both to expand their intellectual horizon and to help civilian students understand how the military services were rethinking their role in the post-Cold War world. She also championed a program to bring promising young leaders from less developed countries to UMD and Washington, DC so they could gain a fuller understanding of what they could accomplish in their own countries.

One of Catherine’s great frustrations was how much harder it was for women than men to make an impact on security policy. She and a small group of other women who had gotten Ph.D.s in the 1960s, including Angela Stent and Enid Schoettle, felt like doors that had opened briefly for them had closed again by the 1980s, turning the security studies field back into a “boys club.” WIIS was established at CISSM to pry those doors back open again by mentoring young women and creating professional development opportunities for them. One of their favorite tactics was to send a “nastygram” to panel chairs, workshop organizers, and hiring officials who only included men because they thought there were no qualified women, giving them a list of exemplary women to choose from. Many of the women who currently hold top security-related positions in government, academia, and non-governmental organizations gained self-confidence, strategic skills, and practical tips for handling sticky professional situations through their association with Catherine and other formidable women in the WIIS network. My own career got a much-needed boost when I was offered a year-long WIIS fellowship at CISSM in 1995 to turn my dissertation into a book and organize a workshop featuring women who were bridging the gap between theory and practice of arms control.

The Clinton administration opened its doors to Catherine, her former students, and other women in the WIIS network. She served as the Secretary of Defense’s Personal Representative in Europe and Defense Advisor to the U.S. Ambassador to NATO. She spent another two years as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia before becoming Director of the Aspen Institute in Berlin, then a Professor at the Naval War College and a Senior Fellow at Brown University. She ended her career as a College Park Professor at the University of Maryland, helping to prepare a new generation of security policy students to think critically and creatively about evolving Euro-Atlantic security relations, missile defense, nuclear disarmament, climate change, and many other topics.

Throughout it all, Catherine kept moving forward like a ship under full sail, navigating around icebergs, clearing the way for others. She wanted those who follow in her wake to be willing to think seriously about any issue of broad and enduring importance, without getting consumed by trivial or “coopted into current nonsense.” She sought to instill in us a broader focus and a strong moral compass to guide our research and our public service. We will miss Catherine deeply, while doing our best to carry on her good work. With courage and compassion, we will continue to strengthen CISSM as a locus for interdisciplinary innovation that improves security policy, and as a challenging yet nurturing environment that provides young women and men from all backgrounds with the knowledge, confidence, and access they need to change the world.

On behalf of the entire University of Maryland community, the School of Public Policy extends our deepest sympathies to Catherine’s family, friends and colleagues. To honor Catherine and her legacy, gifts can be given to the Catherine M. Kelleher Fellowship Fund for International Security Studies, which supports an exceptional graduate student pursuing their master’s or doctoral degree at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy. We welcome community members to share condolences and remembrances in the comments below. 

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Submitted by Steve Fetter (not verified) on Mon, 02/20/2023 - 11:11

I will be forever grateful to Catherine for recruiting me to join the School and CISSM 35 years ago. She was an incredibly valuable source of advice and mentoring early in my career, and I could see the impact she had on dozens of other young scholars—particularly women, many of whom are now in prominent positions in government and universities. I benefitted from her wisdom, knowledge, and good humor, and I hope I have been able to pass along a bit of her example to my students.

Submitted by David Segal (not verified) on Mon, 02/20/2023 - 16:04

I first met Catherine around 1970 when we were both on the University of Michigan faculty. There were not many academic social scientists who studied military and security affairs during the Vietnam War era, and those of us who did tended to bond. We followed separate paths after Michigan, but were reunited when I joined the Maryland Sociology faculty in 1975 and she came to Maryland to help build the School of Public Affairs and to found CISSM in the early 1980s. Maryland was not particularly hospitable to interdisciplinary work, but CISSM welcomed folks from the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences such as George Quester (GVPT), Mancur Olson (ECON), my wife and colleague Mady Segal and myself into a vibrant intellectual community. I sat on a couple of doctoral committees that Catherine chaired, although she left the last one and Steve Fetter stepped into the breach--perhaps his first Maryland doctoral chairmanship. I have tried to maintain contact with CISSM since retiring. Catherine left a very special legacy at College Park.

Submitted by Judith Reppy (not verified) on Mon, 02/20/2023 - 19:42

Catherine and I overlapped, but never met, at Mount Holyoke. When I did get to know her in the 1980s, I was swept into the policy networks that she had helped to create and had nurtured. Having spent roughly 15 years as the only woman in the room when arms control or military R&D were the topics, it was inspiring to meet so many other women in the field. Not to mention fun--we became good friends and had good times together. I miss her.

Submitted by Lindsay Rand (not verified) on Tue, 02/21/2023 - 07:50

Beyond her many professional accolades, Catherine will also be remembered as an important mentor to her students, peers, and colleagues, many of whom have since gone on to forge their own
successful careers in public service and international security. As prolific as she was a writer and a thinker, Catherine was also exceedingly generous in her time and energy as a mentor. She was a patient and attentive listener, and would offer advice, stories, support, or research direction whenever needed. She would also unsparingly leverage her own network to make introductions, secure research opportunities, and find jobs for the people she believed in. But most importantly, Catherine always advocated for people to strive to achieve more in their research or work and would nudge people to go beyond their comfort zones for a better analysis or a better outcome when she believed in their ability to rise to the occasion (and often before they even believed in themselves).

Submitted by Irving Mintzer (not verified) on Tue, 02/21/2023 - 08:33

Catherine Kelleher was a natural phenomenon and a national treasure. Her incisive intellect and sharp wit cut through the fog of many discussions around the fuzzy nexus of national security and foreign policy. Her warm welcome to me, both at UMD and in the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, helped me to see the profound connections that link environment and economic development, to both national and global security. Her rigorous intellectual discipline, coupled with a warm and occasionally impish smile, never failed to bring a fresh light into the dark corners of these shared challenges.

Submitted by Matthew Evangelista (not verified) on Tue, 02/21/2023 - 10:55

I first met Catherine as a graduate student at Cornell in the early 1980s and stayed in touch with her over the years. She was a valuable mentor, with a warm and engaging personality, and always willing to share her wisdom. As a sometimes co-director and regular participant in the ISODARCO winter courses in Italy, she fostered a network of international students, scholars, and practitioners of international security policy. My wife Joanie and I enjoyed spending time with her there and elsewhere--including at a dinner in San Francisco with Joanie's parents, whose visit coincided with a meeting of the International Studies Association. Like Catherine, they were natives of Massachusetts who still retained their distinctive Boston accents, and like everyone, they were charmed by Catherine's intelligence and wit. Long after her doctors forbade her from further international travel, Catherine nevertheless remained attentive to any good flight deals and would pass them on to us. She was one of a kind and we miss her.

Submitted by Derek Boyd (not verified) on Wed, 02/22/2023 - 12:03

I am no security policy scholar, but Catherine brought me great joy as she reveled in sketching the plot and the role that the various participants played on the world stage in their security duels. The depth, the zeal and the breadth that she brought to this task was breathtaking. I'll be forever grateful.

Submitted by Lynn Eden (not verified) on Wed, 02/22/2023 - 16:11

Let me begin at the beginning. Catherine was one of the two dissertation committee members from the University of Michigan I stayed in touch with for decades after finishing my dissertation. I was one of the women whose life Catherine changed. When I was about done with my Ph.D., Catherine and I went for a walk in her neighborhood in Ann Arbor, and she asked me what I wanted to do after I finished my Ph.D. I said I’d like to teach, preferably in a research university but a good small college would also be fine. She said in either case, I should get my “ticket punched,” by applying for a post-doc at two places I’d never heard of: what is now the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard and the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford. Exercising my strong rational powers, I decided to apply only to Harvard because I didn’t think I could take two rejections in one year. Well, as it happened, my inadvertent bet worked, as did Catherine’s letters of recommendation after. I still feel Catherine’s encouragement, see her bemused look, and hear her wonderful Boston accent. I miss her.

Submitted by Jonas Siegel (not verified) on Sat, 02/25/2023 - 11:11

Catherine was an uncompromising scholar, mentor, and colleague. She gave ever bit of her energy and insight to her work. From the first time I met her till the last time I talked with her, she was enthusiastically encouraging of my interests and ambitions. And she did the same for so many others. Her commitment to her community was beyond instructive, it was inspiring. I will carry the many things I learned from her for the rest of my career and life. Thank you, Catherine!

Submitted by Herb Lin (herb… (not verified) on Sat, 02/25/2023 - 17:09

I’m so very sad and shocked at Catherine’s passing, even though I knew she wasn’t doing very well. I first met Catherine in the 1980’s when I was headed down a professional path in defense policy and arms control where she was a prominent player. But I more or less left the field in 1990 with the end of the Cold War (a big mistake in retrospect), and our professional paths didn’t cross very often after that.

My subsequent pursuit of information technology and public policy was largely peripheral to her interests. And yet… I have a vivid memory of her regaling me about the power of computer-based bulletin boards for disseminating information and predicting that such power would have significant implications in the future.

Even though I was just a bit player in her world, my memories of her are warm and tender. She was always willing to explore ideas with me and she was gentle with my ignorance. We are poorer without her, both professionally and personally, and like others who have posted here, I will miss her deeply.

Submitted by Mady W. Segal (not verified) on Thu, 03/02/2023 - 10:54

Catherine was a role model, a mentor, and the opposite of a Queen Bee! I remember her amazing strategy of getting women on the programs of sessions at conferences. She would see that there were no women on the programs and contact the organizers who said there were no qualified women in the field. Then Catherine would send them a list of qualified women . She taught me so much and was very generous with her time, despite how busy she always was. She is sorely missed, but her impact continues.

Submitted by Linda Staheli (not verified) on Sun, 03/12/2023 - 17:53

Catherine was my professor at the Univ of Maryland School of Public Affairs in 1986 where I focused on security studies. She soon became my mentor, and helped me grow by awarding me a MacArthur Fellowship to help launch Women in International Security (WIIS) and then recommended me for a US Young Leaders Delegation sponsored by the German Ministry of Defence to attend a week long conference on security studies in West Germany. She was at the same time tough and warm, witty, and always encouraging - a force of nature with a wonderful laugh. She will be missed but forever remembered by thousands across the world. Her impact supporting women in international security will be with us forever.

Submitted by Taj Moore (not verified) on Sat, 05/27/2023 - 16:27

Catherine Kelleher was an obvious trailblazer. But she was also one of my very first backers in national security policy. She taught a seminar at Brown on nuclear weapons that accelerated my then-nascent interest in arms control specifically and security studies in general. She provided me with research and professional opportunities that opened doors that might have been closed to me otherwise. I will always remember her kindness and generosity. We also shared a love of greasy quesadillas from a local bagel shop in Providence. She will be missed but her legacy will live on. Thank you, Catherine.

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