RIP, Marty Kelly

My father-in-law Martin Kelly died yesterday at age 77. (Photo courtesy of the Kelly family.)

We all knew this day was coming, but somehow you’re never quite prepared for the loss of someone as vital and memorable as Marty.

He was born in Pittsfield, but was a Springfield man through and through.  Reared in Hungry Hill, he graduated from Classical High School in 1950, and was AIC class of 1954.  Had my mother-in-law Helen not insisted, Marty might well have happily spent the rest of his life at 2197 Wilbraham Road in the city of his childhood.

He loved hotdogs and beans and was a steak and potatoes man, heavy on the salt, even after his septuple bypass in 1998. He treasured his afternoon Dewar’s and Russell Stover jellybeans, even when they stuck to his teeth. He dressed nattily and wore his hats and his ties well.

Politically, he was pure red in one of the country’s bluest states. We eventually surfaced, if not vigorously discussed, our differences in that area.  Marty was very tolerant. I believe his understanding came in part because he expected little different from his daughter’s husband, in part because he met some of my friends and may have found me reasonable by comparison, and in part because he had the ability to, in the words of Atticus Finch, walk around in another man’s shoes, even if the walk didn’t last last as long as the mile that Finch prescribed.

He worked at different jobs over the years, and, for Marty, life was never really about work.

For him, life came down to three central, deep-rooted and related passions: family, friends and golf, though not always, it might seem, in that order.

Golf got a hold of him as a teenager and never left go.

It was no accident that all of Marty’s grandchildren called him Par. Golf took Marty across the country and led to thousands of hours of pleasure and hearty doses of frustration, years as a Massachusetts Golf Association official, and, for me as a son-in-law, a perpetual question whenever the conversation seemed to be flagging or heading in a potentially contentious direction: “What do you think of Tiger Woods?”

But Marty’s endless desire to improve, his quest for the perfect swing, the flawless hole – he could recite by memory what Garry Brown wrote about a hole in one he shot – and the unblemished round, were just a part of his love for the game.

His was a shared passion.

The Friday games he orchestrated by tinkering constantly with the foursomes gave him weekly pleasure. As the round’s architect, he often invoked his design privileges to make sure that he ended up with Tommy Henshon. Although he was not always enamored of Tommy’s methods of coaching and encouragement, he always spoke about him and his game with admiration.

“He knows how to make the putts when it matters,” Marty told me.

Regardless of the result, Marty and the other players would go out for a meal and drinks to mark the occasion, begin the weekend and start to prepare for the next week’s game.

Golf and friendship also intersected with one of Marty’s longest-standing friends, Eugene Mulcahy.

Gene, Marty and Helen spent several winters together chasing the white ball in the Carolinas together. While the relationship did have occasional moments of tension, Marty would always end a description of Gene’s alleged wrongdoings with the statement, “Of course, he may not find me the easiest person to get along with, either.”

He did get along with his family, though.

For Marty, family first meant his parents, Grammy and Poppy, and his siblings Bill, Dave, Dick and Ginna. They dipped and coated him in the Kelly brand of love that bred strong and self-respecting personalities, the kind that let you know that you are claimed and accepted, and loved for who you are.

Later, family meant Helen, the bright and beautiful cheerleading daughter of Polish immigrants who hailed from Enfield, Connecticut. They made a striking couple. He was lean and lanky and broad- shouldered, with an athletic gait, genial smile and affable wit. She was elegant, composed and always well put together. They fit well on each other’s arm.

They didn’t just look good, but together they shared a lifetime of children, caring for and burying their parents, working and retiring, the birth and growth of grandchildren, family vacations, travel, and then the twilight years.

Family also meant his three children, all of whom he accepted completely and loved fiercely. His kids were a constant source of delight. He spoke about them with a combination of pride and wonder that he had had something to do with the full-fledged people he had helped create.

Like the time at my bachelor party, after driving us in from Western Mass. and happily settling into either his first or second beer, he turned to me and declared, “Dunreith’s a tiger, Jeff, and if you don’t know it by now, it’s too late for you.”

I assured him I was familiar with his only daughter’s fiery nature, and we laughed before finishing our drinks.

He’d do anything for Dunreith.

When we got married for the second time at Look Park in July 2001, Dunreith wanted to arrive in Cracker Curran’s vintage Ford convertible. Sitting in the front seat caused Marty’s balky knees to go halfway down his throat, but not so far down that you couldn’t hear his particularly hearty “Jesus Christ” in the next state.

But he kept driving.

Nothing would stop him from giving his daughter the day she wanted to have.

I will say that he started to draw the line later that year when we got married for a third time in a Jewish ceremony the day before our first anniversary – an event that made Marty miss his beloved Labor Day golf tournament.

After the ceremony ended, he said, without a hint of humor, “That’s enough. You can do this again. But if it’s on Labor Day, count me out.”

We never tested him on that one.

He and Helen flew out to Chicago for Dunreith’s surprise 45th birthday party and, even though he was failing, again for her 50th.

Family meant Aidan, Dylan, Colin, Jacob, Sarah and Regan, his six grandchildren. He adored all of them, and would end every conversation about them by saying, “They’re good kids.”

Family meant in-laws and nieces and nephews and cousins.

Fortunately, family meant me, too.

Marty took a little while to get that my last name then was Lowenstein, not Weinstein. But he got there and stayed there. He welcomed me into the family from the moment we got engaged. Dunreith and I went over to 11 Ridgewood, where she showed her new ring to her mother, we looked at old family pictures and some childhood report cards, and Marty said, “You’re two people with an idea, and you’re doing something about it.”

He was right, and we did.

In addition to giving me a major gift by introducing me to speed reading, Marty gave me the gift of perspective. When we were at our apartment in Easthampton preparing to go over to Look Park for the wedding, he told me, in essence, “Enjoy it, Jeff, because tomorrow it’ll all be over.”

Marty encouraged me as a husband and father by including me in family events, by asking me about the roles I was beginning to inhabit, and by leaving the three of us alone to forge our lives together.

The end was hard.

Marty knew until recently what he was losing and it frustrated him a lot. Still, we had moments of clarity and connection on the phone.

I’m proud to be part of a family where the woman he spent his life with and the children he helped raise showed him the same kind of love he had given to them.

Helen never flinched or complained as the dementia advanced. Shaun always answered the calls his parents placed.  Josh spent hours and hours working to get the best legal, medical and financial support for his father, even as Rebecca’s pregnancy advanced to its final weeks.   And Dunreith came back from Chicago again and again and again.  Along with the support of Cathy, Rebecca and the community Helen and Marty had created throughout their lives, they shared the load together and worked to make the end of Marty’s life as peaceful as possible.

Now it has come.

We are sad that Marty is gone.

I cried several times on Friday, the day of his death, in the hours before his passing, knowing what was coming, but not when. Yet, in our sadness, I hope we can take consolation in knowing he is still with us, and always will be.

I’ll think of him when I’m writing this blog, which is predicated on reading, when I’m telling people about speed reading, or when I’m watching Tiger Woods re-emerge from his self-imposed exile and try to win the Masters again.

I’ll think of him when I’m sitting next to his chair in front of the grandfather clock at the head of the table where we had so many meals together.

I’ll think about the conversations we had and the memories we shared.

I’ll be grateful.

And I’ll smile.

Marty, I thank you. I’ll miss you. And I love you.

40 responses to “RIP, Marty Kelly

  1. Dear Jeff,

    I am sorry to hear of your father-in-law’s passing. Your tribute to him, however, is wonderful. My face is wet now as I type. You beautifully bring forth who his was in his unique details, and you make clear what is really important, for him and for all us us when we have our wisdom about Us. I remember you telling me of his comment, “Dunreith’s a tiger, Jeff, and if you don’t know it by now, it’s too late for you.” I thin also you told me of “Enjoy it, Jeff, because tomorrow it’ll all be over.” Take care of yourself and the family. I will be dropping a card in the mail for Dunreith.

    Love,

    Dave

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Dave. Your love and support mean a lot to us. The funeral will probably be Thursday, and I’ll likely be heading to Boston tomorrow to see Mom and Mike.

      I’ll keep you posted and hope we can get together.

      Love,

      Jeff

      • David Russell

        That would be nice. Let me know. I’m sure you’ll have a lot on your plate.

      • jeffkellylowenstein3

        Thanks, Dave. I’ll see what I can do. It’s a bit hectic between what’s happening on both sides of the state.

        I’ll definitely give you a call.

        Jeff

  2. Jeff, thank you for sharing this. Love to Dunreith, Aidan all of the family.

    Ronnie

  3. I am so sorry for your family’s loss of this wonderfully family and golf oriented man. This is a really nice rememberance of your father-in-law. I am glad you shared such interesting accounts of your father-in-law, a perfect celebration of the man who seemed to have been the salt of the Earth. Come Labor Day, why don’t you hit a golf ball in his memory.

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Lannae, for your kind words. I apologize for not getting back to you sooner and appreciate the suggestion!

      Jeff

  4. Jeff,

    Thank you for this.

    We love you,
    Ginna

  5. Sorry to hear the news about your father-in-law Jeff. I would not be the least bit surprised that Mr. Kelly and my Dad played a round of golf together somewhere in those hundreds of rounds in Mass and around the country, considering they were about the same age and had this same passion for the game. Throw in a shot and a beer and a fondness for colorful “JC” language, and you have makings of a true Irish duet.

    Please send our condolences to Dunreith and Aidan. I just dropped off Liz at the airport. She mentioned your Mom continues to struggle to Boston.

    You are fortunate to be surrounded by loving families.

    Peace to you and yours,

    Jack

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Jack, for your kind words. What was your father’s name? I’d like to ask our family.

      I’ll be heading to Boston to see Mom tomorrow.

      Regards to you and yours.

      Jeff

  6. Thank you for posting this unique memorial, Jeff. I’m really glad you are a part of our family now, and that you got to know and learned to appreciate dad.

    “Hold fast to dreams…”

    Love,
    Josh

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thank YOU, Josh. I’m really glad we are in the same family, too, and very excited that Rebecca, you and all of us will welcome the latest addition to it on Wednesday.

      Love,

      Jeff

  7. Susan Mulcahy Cappuccio

    As the daughter of Gene Mulcahy, I have known Marty all of my life. He was always nice to me, and I thought him the tallest man in the world. I’m sure he is somewhere in heaven driving around in that cool Kelly green car, with his clubs in the car! I know my Dad will miss him….for now.

    Susan

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Susan. I know how much your dad and Marty meant to each other, and agree with you that he is in a better place.

      I look forward to meeting you in person.

      Jeff

  8. Jeff – I’m a friend of Josh’s. Rebecca was kind enough to share your remembrance. I wasn’t fortunate enough to know Marty well – only met on a couple of occasions, but thanks to your writing I now feel I know more about the man he was. And by extension I feel I know Josh a little better, too.

    My condolences.

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Dave, for your kind words. I look forward to meeting you in person and will pass along your condolences to Josh, Rebecca and the rest of the family.

      Jeff

  9. John Crane, member of Charles River Country Club (“the river”), Newton, MA for over 50 years.
    Played in hundreds of tournaments in Mass, and had annual outings to California for many years. Of course, when I ask my Dad tomorrow whether or not he knew a Martin Kelly, he comment will be “geesuskrist, you are asking me if I played golf with a guy named Kelly! ” when there was probably a Kelly in every other foursome he rolled with.

  10. Tracy Garrison-Feinberg

    Dear sweet Jeff,
    What a wonderful tribute to your father-in-law, but you’ve always been wonderfully eloquent. Love to you and Dunreith and Aidan, and big hugs from New York.
    All the best,
    Tracy

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Tracy, for your kind words of support. I hope all is well with you and your family.

      Love,

      Jeff

  11. Tancee Brodeur-Sassi

    Dear Jeff, Dunreith, Aidan (and the Kelly clan)
    Thank you for sharing such a lovely tribute to Marty. I think of him as this big, burly Irish guy sort of observing the scene and later contributing succinct pearls of wisdom. I have always had this wondrous image of the Kelly clan reaching out and supporting each other. You have caught the essence of the family beautifully in your tribute. My deepest sympathy to you all
    Tancee

  12. Thanks, Jeff, for the tribute to Marty.
    I was thinking about all the good times we had.
    I remember one golfing junket to the Cape and
    we played in a hurricane. We weren’t about to
    let any wind keep us from playing.
    Thanks, again
    Uncle Dick and Aunt Helen

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Uncle Dick and Aunt Helen, for the kind words. I look forward to seeing both of you on Thursday.

      Love,

      Jeff

  13. Sandra Hollingsworth

    To my dear Friends,
    What a wonderful time you’ve had with your Father-in-law. I remember meeting him @ Dunreith’s 50th surprise party. He’s was a Hoot!!!
    Remember the smiles, the hugs, the joys, and the blessings he has given you.
    Love,
    Sandra, Ja’Net, & the Pookies (Giovonni & Jentel)

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Sandra, for your kind words. They mean a lot to us. I hope all is well with you and your family.

      Love,

      Jeff

  14. Dear Helen, while the 55 year gulf since we last were together is a lifetime of sorts, the joy of our distant relationship is still alive in my heart. From the moment I met him at the Army CIC office in South Boston, I was hooked. His warmth and spirit endeared him to all, particularly this newcomer to Boston. Our constant reinactment of the Bob and Ray radio skits probably drove you nuts, but Marty and I could not resist playing the roles of Natalie Attired, Wally Belou and the rest of the cast. He will live in the most contented compartment in my life, and the memory of the great times we had at Singing Beach and the Cape and Webb Andersons farm in New Hampshire are still fresh in my mind. Much love from afar. Frank

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Mr. Farella, for your kind words, which I will share with Helen.

      My brother Mike lives in the Bay Area and I hope to meet you in person.

      Jeff

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  16. beautifully said, sir. i wish you and your family strength at this difficult time. reading your tribune, i’m also so sorry i never had the pleasure of meeting marty.

  17. Wendy Green Simpson

    Jeff, This brought me to tears, am so grateful for you as a record-keeper within your family, a poignant and loving tribute. Even in your own grief you were able to wrap each of us in a soft quilt of stories. I only met Martin a few times many years ago when Dunreith and I were in high school, but was reminded of what an amazing person he was. Thank you. Blessings and love to you all –

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks very much, Wendy, for your kind words. I have heard some of the stories about the Macduffie years and hope to meet you in person. In the meantime, I’ll pass on your thoughts to Dunreith and the rest of the family.

      Jeff

  18. elisabeth cantor

    Jeff-
    I finally had the chance to read this all the way through. It reminded me of the many times I had the pleasure of interacting with Dunreith’s dad while we were neighbors in Easthampton. He seemed so vibrant and strong that nothing could do him in. I’m sure he would be savoring your find words and looking forward to the next time the two of you could have a beer together.
    My best to all of you. Thank you for sharing your memories and your heart.
    peace be with you guys,
    love, Elisabeth

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Elizabeth. Alex and you are big part are our Easthampton memory bank!

      Hope all is well with you two.

      Jeff

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