Remembering Seamus Kelters: Pioneering Trauma Journalist

By Frank Ochberg

We are lucky to have Seamus etched into the fabric of our lives - an indigenous leader of this tribe, a skilled seeker of elusive truths, an irreverent, witty, articulate author, and a compassionate friend.  He brought me close to his heart and and he was there for me when my heart needed repair.  Seamus invited me to Belfast several times and, thanks to him, his family and his mates at the BBC, I think of that corner of the world not as a sea of Troubles, but as place where we can laugh at ourselves into the wee hours of the morning. 

Some Seamus Kelter quotes:

I'm taking the unusual step of writing to all three of you at once because of another unusual step. It was the one I took two Sundays back when putting away Christmas decorations and managed to go through the attic ceiling between the joists and down the stairwell of our house, making it right as far as the stone floor in the hall.

You hear about these stupid things but you now can claim to know such an eedjit first hand. I still don't know how I did it but it wasn't good. My left hamstring may have smacked on a bannister partially breaking my fall. They measured the first drop at 23 feet. Fortunately I landed on my head. There's an indentation the size of my head on the first floor wooded landing. It's soft wood but hasn't stopped colleagues saying they have proof I'm thick as a plank.

Several years later, responding to the 2016 American election:


When does it stop getting worse?

This regime has two 'R's at core - racism and Russia.

Sometimes in life it is just right to storm the barricades - believe me I've been there, physically, in the face of armoured cars, guns and bombs - when there is no hope of success. Achievement comes with leadership. Those kids out protesting are crying out for leadership. I despair at the DNC's lack of vision and chaos. Perhaps the leadership needs to come from the kids - the kind of people you have been inspiring? I hope things are happening there because I don't see much at all elsewhere.

I heard a strong point recently - someone said the satirists are coming to the fore in pointing up all the contradictions, lies and incompetencies of this iniquitous regime. One said Trump is a 'bull carrying around his own China shop'. But the point that struck me was someone saying that the satirists can only go so far before, with their style and humour, that they make us feel all will feel okay, will turn out right in the end. This commentator described that as a false sense of security - things might not end up okay unless someone calls halt.

Trump thrives on enemies - North Korea, Hillary, journalists, intelligence agencies cable channel hosts, environmentalists. The list gets longer by the day. His base finds shelter there.

As another song says, wake me up when it's all over.


Most recently, provoked by Trumps' anger at the athletes kneeling during our anthem:

The NFL is another distraction issue but it inevitably it sucks people like me in because of my cross over interest in both politics and sport.

I have actually refused to stand for three national anthems.

The first, God Save the Queen, will likely be no surprise. I boycotted my university graduation. Other friends went and sat. I probably regret not doing the same now because it deprived my parents of the day. They would have sat as well. Later, when reporting, I sat when surrounded by quite a number of hostile people.

The second was the American anthem. Before I knew better and saw Blackfish, we took the boys to Seaworld. They featured servicemen and women who were there in uniform having served in Iraq. Disagreeing profoundly with that intervention, Camilla and I remained seated when the anthem played and we got some dirty looks but not much else. She has a track record of not standing having taken part in a protest when back at school.

The final one might surprise you. I would not stand for the opening bars of the Irish anthem which are played - similar to the use of Hail to the Chief - for the Irish President's arrival at events. The president in question was Mary McAleese. She was in a prominent position at Queen's University in Belfast when I was reporting on institutional religious discrimination on campus and in the administration. Unlike others, both Protestant and Catholic, who helped the reporting and campaigned, she kept her head down but then went on to present herself as a campaigning when successfully running for presidency. When she entered Croke Park, 70,999 stood whereas I remained seated. I had no respect for her and got a few odd looks. My best friend stood out of respect for the Office, his choice.

I never disrespected, I felt, my country or any other by my actions. 

It seems such a legitimate form of protest and not an issue the president should be anywhere near. By far the most serious situation he has contrived would seem to centre on North Korea. Experts are said to be 'freaking out' now by what's going on. Poking a madman with a stick is not good politics. The problem is that I am not sure which leader is the maddest.

At the moment I'd vote - or at least try to persuade Camilla and the boys to vote - for an Al Franken/Bill Maher ticket. Actually, I'd currently vote for Bart Simpson if it could rid us of the daily social media onslaught of insanity, the practical out working and stress of attempting to restrict voting, disaster aid, health care and rights and the implicit but writ-large interference in the political process from foreign agents and polemic media whether it be from the right armed with hate or the left armed, mostly, with facts.

My reporting has always been, I like to think, straightforwardly facts and I have always considered any reporters' opinion as of least importance compared to the rest of society. Our job is to report on both the high and the humble and to leave out our own views. At the same time, privately, I have always shared the opinions of those who speak truth to power and, like yourselves, stand for something - even when they are kneeling.

Keep up the good fight.


There is so much more in a trove of letters from Seamus.  He wouldn't mince words.  He had strong opinions.  He encouraged us to be active, engaged and outspoken.  But he knew when to hold his tongue and he helped us be persuasive rather than polemical.  We friends of Seamus also helped him.  He had one foot out the door of journalism before the Fellowship.  I believe we mirrored his ideals and, together, we made a difference in one-another's lives.

Seamus, you lit up my life and you still do.