Grandpa Joe on a visit to Brooklyn in the late 90's
The phone rang this morning at 9 AM. It brought relief, but mostly, infinite sadness. My father-in law Joseph Kelly had just passed away in Arizona. He had been courageously battling cancer for many months.
Joseph Kelly was the very first real Brooklynite I ever met, though by the time my soon-to-be husband introduced me to his father, Joseph had left the borough long ago.
Only later, after having moved to Brooklyn myself, did I recognize his wittiness, his wonderful way of telling a story with just enough embellishment, the twinkle in his eye and his very distinctive lilt, as characteristics of the place were he was born in 1931.
He was the sweetest man and the best story teller I have ever met. I could listen to him for hours, while he talked about his life and his beloved family. Recounting how he had met his wife Barbara in the 1950's, he would grin and say that he had met his "million dollar baby at the Five-and-Ten-Cent Store." (It was actually at the Woolworth on Fulton Street.)
He earned his living first as a bartender, and then as the owner of his own establishment, the White Shutter Inn, on the border of Bushwick and Ridgewood.
Together, Barbara and Joseph had six children. First, there were three boys and then, three girls. My husband Glenn was the oldest. Joseph worked hard to move his family to the suburbs and out of Brooklyn. As soon as he could, he bought a house in Floral Park, Long Island. But for years, he continued commuting to Brooklyn to run the White Shutter Inn.
He eventually gave the business up and worked as the manager of a Martin's Paint store nearer his home. When he retired, he followed two of his children to Arizona.
When he visited our home in Brooklyn, he always brought laughter with him. Over a cup of coffee and a slice of Junior's Cheese cake, Grandpa Joe would regale our children for hours with tales of Glenn's childhood. There was the time when Glenn had received a weather station for Christmas. When, shortly afterward, Joseph heard repeated banging from above, he knew something was up. Sure enough, his son had climbed onto the roof and had punched a hole into it in order to install the station.
Joe still laughed out loud those many years later, remembering the many challenges of raising his six kids.
It was clear that he had a special relationship with children. He could make them feel like they were the center of his universe. He understood their sadness and joined in their happiness. For years, he volunteered in a day care center in Phoenix. The kids kept him young, he would tell us.
His parenting advice to me was always the same: "Instead of being mad at them, when they misbehave, just hug them. It works every time." He was right.
I will miss his stories, his incredible blue eyes and his kindness. I share my husband's and my children's pain and wish I could ease it.
Most of all, I send my love to Scott, Kevin, Rita, Loretta and Marybeth and their families. I am thinking of you all very, very much. Joseph's spark, kindness and spirit will live on in all of you.
And to my mother-in-law Barbara, I would like to say, that she is my hero and that I aspire to possess as much grace as she does.
Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to my two sisters-in-law Rita and Loretta, who have given so much of themselves over these last months. I can only imagine how difficult it was. My love and respect to you both.
Some More Photos Of Joe Kelly
Joseph and Barbara Kelly in the 1950's
A few years ago with Sophia, one of their 12 grand-children
For Home Page, click Pardon Me For Asking