Stephen Thomas Kelleher — or “Lefty” as he was known around the Whiteaker and the rest of Eugene — was often spotted in his signature pose: giving the middle finger with his right hand and proudly displaying the studded leather sleeve and hook that replaced his left one. That pose summed up the fierce demeanor and sense of humor that the many who called Lefty a friend now miss.
Lefty died sometime between the night of August 27 and the day of August 28. He leaves behind a community who mourn a friend and icon of the Whit.
“Lefty was a tall, gruff looking dude that was always in leather and a hook for a left hand that had a heart of gold and was quick to help the people that needed it if he felt they were truly needing,” says his best friend, Johnny “Scooter” Skirving.
Johnny Scooter says Lefty was from Queens, New York, “and moved with his family to Phoenix when he was a teen. Riding his bike following his wife home one night he got T-boned by a drunk driver resulting in the loss of his left arm. Eventually he made his way to Eugene 25 years ago. We met up about 15 years ago and hung around for much of that time before we became roommates eight years ago.”
Johnny Scooter says, “He was a very devoted and true friend. He always had your back. Very opinionated, but flexible.”
In May 2022 Lefty suffered a traumatic brain injury, Johnny Scooter says, and “was pretty much out of the picture for a year.”
After word broke of Lefty’s death, the tributes poured onto social media. Artist Lester Maurer posted of the time he painted Lefty’s portrait:
“Me: ‘This is the part of the painting where you need to look me in the eyes so you’re looking at the viewer.”
10 min later…
Lefty: ‘I never looked at a man this long in the eyes without punching him in the face.’
Your attitude will be missed. RIP Lefty.”
Sculptor Jud Turner says in 2015 Lefty “got his hearse and he was so proud of it. He’d wanted one for a while and this was a really nice one.” He asked Turner to make a skull hood ornament for it, “which of course I did,” Turner says. “When Eugene’s most notorious pirate asks for art, you oblige him.”
Though nervous about drilling a hole in the prized new ride, Turner successfully installed the skull, which adorns the hearse to this day, and was featured prominently in a photo in Eugene Weekly that same year, when Lefty was voted “Best Hellraiser” in Best of Eugene.
Turner is working with Johnny Scooter to create a new version of the hood ornament that will incorporate Lefty’s hook and a metal fist giving his infamous bird salute. “A tribute to Lefty,” he says, and a nod to the scene at the end of Sometimes a Great Notion where Henry Stamper’s severed arm gives the community the middle finger after he is dead.
Lefty himself was an artist, at least one time. In 2014 he won the second annual Eugene Pabst Blue Ribbon art contest with his “Death by Pabst” sculpture, earning him a 52-case year’s supply of PBR. The art was a skull, plastered with PBR labels and an actual PBR tap mounted on top. He also appeared on the cover of EW, flipping the bird, in an issue highlighting the Whiteaker Block Party.
And for every anecdote of Lefty looking fierce, there’s an anecdote of Lefty’s kindness, from playing pirate with children, to helping people in difficult situations, to just being a friend.
“He always smiled and talked to me nicely, not caring that I was an undocumented immigrant and a street musician on Bar-muda Triangle sidewalks,” writes origami artist Tomo Tsurumi, whose origami of Lefty was often used by the man himself as his profile photo on Facebook.
“I could go on for days about our travels, adventures and off the wall stuff we’ve done,” Johnny Scooter says. “Let me end with, he was my best friend and a brother. I haven’t had so close of a friendship with anyone else before him. He will sorely be missed.”