Thomas Keller Photo courtesy of his family

Thomas Keller, a retired Portland police lieutenant who advocated for women and families dealing with domestic violence, died Feb. 5 after a fight with bladder cancer. He was 71.

His family remembered him as a kind and compassionate man who dedicated his life to serving others.

Mr. Keller joined the Portland Police Department as a patrol officer in 1972. He rose through the ranks to sergeant and then lieutenant, retiring after 20 years of service. Throughout his career, Keller distinguished himself as a champion for the underserved, working tirelessly to help survivors of domestic violence.

As a young sergeant, he was tapped by former Portland Police Chief Frank Amoroso to serve as the liaison between the department and a new shelter for battered women. He helped draft new domestic violence laws and trained officers on how to respond to these types of calls and to the needs of survivors. At the time, officers were required to participate in 40 hours of training on critical police issues. The first 24 hours focused solely on domestic violence.

He worked closely with Rep. Lois Reckitt, former executive director of Family Crisis Services, to create an office within the police department for shelter advocates.

Mr. Keller was a longtime board member and volunteer at Family Crisis Services, now known as Through these Doors. In 1993, he was recognized by the Family Crisis Shelter with a Lifetime Achievement Award “for his tireless dedication to the safety of and justice for abused women and their children.”

On Thursday, his brother, Bill Keller, referenced a phrase in the Police Code of Ethics, “to protect the weak,” when he talked about how his brother spent his career advocating for women and families affected by domestic violence.

“He had a passion for serving those less fortunate,” Bill Keller said. “He loved protecting and helping others.”

His son, Mark Keller, a Portland police officer, said Thursday that he was inspired by his father’s career and followed a similar path. He said his father was his mentor and best friend.

“I spent seven years in a plainclothes unit,” Keller said. “My father’s work in domestic violence inspired me to work with women and people who have been exploited through sex trafficking and prostitution. “

Mr. Keller grew up in Portland and graduated from Cheverus High School, where he was a member of the swim team. Following school, he joined the Army and served with the Blueghost Scout Platoon of the Eighth Cavalry Regiment in Chu Lai, Vietnam.

Bill Keller said Thursday that his brother’s experience during the Vietnam War changed his life. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and struggled with alcoholism for many years. His brother said he was hospitalized for treatment of PTSD.

Mark Keller said his father became an outspoken critic of war and made it his mission to learn more about social justice issues. He said his father advocated for veterans, Veterans for Peace and the poor.

“We talked heavily about prostitution and human trafficking and sexual assault and domestic violence as being very similar crimes against women and people,” his son said. “The inspiration for me was in the end, he was someone who could learn at his age and was always seeking information. He taught me to be curious. He taught me to be a leader.”

Mr. Keller retired in 1992. His marriage ended and he moved to Hancock County. Around 1994, he relocated to Nova Scotia, where he met Janice Langille, his wife of 10 years. The couple lived in Seal Harbour. In 2019, they bought a home in Brunswick. In addition to his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Michelle Keller of Freeport.

Mr. Keller enjoyed fly-fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling, cooking, and spending time with family and friends.

“Tom always had a wonderful smile,” his brother said. “He was always gracious. He was brilliant in his ability to understand this world. He read a lot. He never attended college. He had his own bachelor’s of life and shared that knowledge with others.”

One of his proudest accomplishments was his sobriety. He was sober for more than 30 years at the time of his death.

“Thank goodness he had his sobriety,” his brother said. “He had no problem sharing how important his recovery was in giving him a life second to none. It probably would have been different if he weren’t sober.”

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