Maurice Herman Kellerman – known everywhere as Harry – passed away in April 2000 at the age of almost 98, having become an Australian icon in education, freemasonry and community service.
Born in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1902, he was dissuaded by his father from becoming a doctor; his father believed there were enough doctors already. As a result, Harry began to study engineering and worked as a research chemist in his university holidays. Before long, a scientific career was abandoned in favour of teaching; Harry’s father now told him, “If you have to be a teacher, then be a good one!” The long and distinguished career in education which followed showed just how good a teacher Harry was.
He began teaching in Walcha in 1923, but before long went back to university and graduated in economics. He became commerce master at Telopea High School in Canberra and is said to have taught economics to Gough Whitlam. By 1934 he was headmaster at Tullibigeal, but within a few years sought a position in Sydney. He was already recognised as a fine teacher and firm disciplinarian known by the nickname, “Kill-a-Man”. In Sydney he became deputy headmaster and then principal of the newly established Blackfriars Correspondence School, remaining with the school for 25 years and becoming the great pioneer, practitioner and exponent of distance education, with a staff of over 400 teachers and 7,000 pupils. He was not only an administrator, but an active teacher, known for his School of the Air broadcasts over the ABC. His eminence as an educator was widely acknowledged. He was awarded the Coronation Medal in 1937, was appointed OBE in 1969, and received a number of professional awards. Retiring from the NSW Department of Education in 1963 he became principal of the International Correspondence School until he retired once again in 1973.
His rapacious energy led him to the leadership of the NSW Board of Jewish Education during a period that was financially difficult but educationally rewarding, with new schools and classes opening up in many districts to cater for the growing and diversifying Jewish community. He worked closely with Rabbi Dr Israel Porush; he and the rabbi alternated in the presidency of the Board for lengthy periods, Harry holding the office for 12 years and becoming involved not only in administration but in teacher training and supervision and school inspections. The Board appointed him honorary life president in 1969, the first person to be accorded this honour. The history of the Board written by him was published in 1979 and is a solid contribution to the story of Jewish education in Australia, as well as testimony to its author’s skills as a researcher and writer. The Kellerman Gallery in the new Academy BJE building recognises his seminal contribution.
In the Australian Jewish Historical Society he was a committee member for many years and for 13 years its editor of publications. His own papers in the AJHS Journal dealt with subjects as diverse as Benjamin Leopold Farjeon, Walter L Lindenthal, Abraham Abrahamson, the York Street Synagogue, and the Jewish Literary and Debating Society of Sydney.
His Jewish community involvement included many years as a highly respected member of the Great Synagogue, a member of the Synagogue Board from 1957 to 1960, a member of its Journal Committee, and a prolific contributor to the Journal.
Harry was far from a retiring individual: every time he retired from a position there was always another major challenge awaiting him. The last several decades of his long life were devoted almost full-time to freemasonry. He became a member of Lodge Apsley No. 129 in 1924, and from then onwards remained active in the movement in a whole sheaf of lodges, many of whom he served as Worshipful Master. He was promoted several times to Grand Lodge rank and for close to 20 years was Grand Librarian of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales. He wrote a number of papers for the Research Lodge in NSW, held office in that lodge and was its editor of publications. In addition he was the author of a two volume history of the United Grand Lodge, covering the years 1948 to 1988. He believed that the Masonic ethos had a major role to play in building a quality society, and his Masonic lectures, given with great energy and lucidity till he was well in his 90s, were an inspiration to countless audiences. He was so well known and esteemed as a Masonic lecturer and author that in his honour the Kellerman Lectures were instituted in order to foster Masonic knowledge and pay tribute to Harry’s leadership.
In 1926 Harry married Millie Ellis and her support for him throughout his career and in all his activities was a decisive factor in his success. She predeceased him in 1984. Their two sons Geoffrey and Gordon have both become eminent professional men in their own right. To them and all their family the warmest of condolences are expressed.
This obituary appeared in the Journal of the Australian Jewish Historical Society in June 2000, Vol. XV, Part 2.