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DeSorgher: A Eulogy to Bill Kelly

Town historian Richard DeSorgher gave the eulogy at William "Bill" Kelly's funeral at St. Edward's Church this past Saturday. Kelly passed away at the Thomas Upham House on May 13. He was 88 years old.

He was as Medfield as you can get and oh how he loved his little town of Medfield. William Joseph “Bill” Kelly was born in the same 32 Miller St. home, he would live in for his entire life.

His great grandparents, John and Mary, would arrive in America and in Boston in 1848 in the mist of the Great Irish Potato Famine. John found work as a laborer and eventually moved out to West Dedham, today the town of Westwood. There they had a son, John Joseph who later married Agnes Lynch and who moved seven miles further west to the small farming community of Medfield.

There in 1895, John operated a small blacksmith shop on what is today Janes Avenue, a shop he had purchased from Irishman William Ryan. He would later sell the shop to another Irishman, Jack McCarthy. After the birth of three daughters, a son, William Joseph Kelly, was born on Nov. 29, 1896. They lived on what was to become the family homestead on Miller Street. John went to war with the outbreak of WWI where he served as a sergeant in the US army and was sent overseas to Europe. After the war he married Catherine “Charlotte” Walker at a ceremony here in the old .

Bill Sr., had become one of Medfield’s constables on patrol, a cop. On Aug. 21, 1923, they gave birth to a son, William Joseph Kelly Jr. Bill Kelly grew up here in Medfield, attended Medfield Schools; in fact he attended the old Ralph Wheelock School literally located next door to him; and he used to tell great stories about the night the school burnt down.

Bill and his family were soon living through the greatest depression in American history; Bill told stories how his family had little and he would go down to Frairy Street and get vegetables and fruit from the Italian families that lived there; he hung out with his buddies in front of the old Edison Light Store on the corner of Main and North Streets.

Bill began working with Mr. Raymond Lord when he first opened his store, “Lords 5 and 10 Cent Store” on Main Street on March 29, 1940. The young 17-year-old Kelly’s first job was delivering the Opening Day circulars. Then on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and America was at war. Like his other friends, Bill decided to go into the military to help his country. He went into Boston to enlist into the navy.

There was no goodbye party, just himself, his family and a bagged lunch. He gave the bus driver the quarter and off he went. They shipped him to the Great Lakes for boot camp. He arrived in December with the rest of the 12,000 new recruits. They shoveled snow for physical training and one thing he said he would never forget was the bitter cold from the wind coming off the lake. Back in 1942, he said no one ever heard of thermal gear. After basic training the military looked up his resume and found that the majority of his work experience focused on working in a grocery store. The Navy needed a cook, so a cook he became. He was shipped out to the Pacific just around the time of the Battle of Guadalcanal. 

After the battle his ship was stationed in and around the now American held islands but still filled with what Bill called Japanese that were left wandering the jungle starving themselves rather than surrendering to the American troops. It was here that Bill kept a promise to the mother of another Medfield kid, Thomas Clewes, who was killed in the Solomon Islands ... He would visit the grave of Clewes.

Leaving his ship, he wandered into the jungle in search of the cemetery where Clews was buried. Getting totally lost, he finally came across Clews grave, he had kept his promise, now he had to find his way back to the ship and dusk was turning into darkness. Stumbling through the jungle he finally heard the words “Halt” only to see US Marines with ready to shoot guns aimed at him. After being identified he finally made it back to his ship and not to the good humor of his captain.

Towards the end of the war Bill was given extra duties, he would photograph the crews, the weapons and most importantly the graves of those Americans killed, so the photos could be sent home to love ones. He was also assigned to be a medic, although he ready admitted that he had no knowledge of medical procedures. They gave him an apron, gauze bandages and a medical book. He was told to always keep a sharp knife handy. My guess is that growing up Tom and Nancy probably always went to their mom whenever they got hurt or injured.

When Bill left and went into WWII, Ray Lord promised Bill that he would have his job waiting for him when he returned. And true to his word, it was. He would not leave for the next 67 years. On Sept. 17, 1950 Bill married another Medfield local, Kathryn “June” Hinkley here in the old St. Edward’s Church. She would remain the love of his life to this very moment, as would the two children they would have, Tom and Nancy. During the 1950’s, Bill was promoted to business partner with Ray Lord. In the 1980’s, Bill would buy out Ray Lord’s shares in the store and become sole owner.

My words cannot do justice to the impact Bill Kelly would have on Lords, the customers who would enter the store, the people of Medfield who would become Bill’s friends and the literally thousands of people, mainly high school kids, he would hire to work at the store.

From the obituary guest book comes honor after honor in testament of the positive impact Bill had over the lives of so many people, more people than Bill probably ever knew or imagined.

They read:

… "He looked out for all of us growing up"

... "He was a Medfield icon"

 ... "A gentleman"

... "When I think about Mr. Kelly, I always remember that welcoming smile, that twinkle in his eye"

... "Even recently, I saw him outside Lords cleaning up the sidewalk at the end of the night, closing up the store"

… "A real class act"

… "Always a cheery hello and a wonderful smile"

… "Amazing boss, kept everyone in place"

 … "He gave me my first job and because of him, I went to college and earned my degree in retail management"

 … "He and Lords are woven into so many lives"

 … "Tireless work ethic and devotion to family values"

 … "Seeing that beloved red sign was always the beacon which let us all know we’ve arrived home"

… "And my favorite, no stealing candy on his watch!"

But perhaps the e-mail that most says who Bill Kelly was, what he meant and the values he professed was one from a former Medfield kid who worked for Bill in high school and college and that was Bill MacGregor.

He wrote:

“Looking back Lord's was a very special place to me and much more than a job in my youth. Mr. Kelly and Mr. Lord were very unique where they took a great interest in us kids and were incredible role models, parental and teachers. Many of my life lessons were learned at Lords. I learned responsibility and was rewarded when I was the lead person in the mornings. Also, being very shy, I learned a lot of social skills, how to interact with people  and got to know many of the great people of Medfield. I was just thinking of the many life lessons we learned. I know there are a lot of better people in this world due to their experiences of working at Lords. Also, they were very concerned about our future and education. I will never forget when I was going to Franklin Institute and got turned down for scholarship money and aid from the school. So I went to Bay Bank for a loan but could not return to school until I paid the tuition. Bay Bank said it might take two or three weeks for the loan to go through if it was approved. Mr. Kelly must have overheard me talking to someone at the fountain. Because, it was a Sunday night and he called me into the office. He said have a seat and close the door. Then he said what is this I hear about you not going back to school. I explained the situation. He then open his desk drawer. He took out $500 (the exact amount I needed and he must have overheard that also) and gave it to me. Then he said I want you in school tomorrow. That June I graduated with an Associates Degree in Mechanical Engineering. This then enabled me to then go to Northeastern where I got my Bachelors of Science Degree.”

You want to know what Bill Kelly was all about, that about says it all.

Clearly Bill's passion was Lords, he put in 75-100 hr work weeks. He sacrificed these hours and lived the American dream for his family, for June, for Tom, for Nancy and for his four grandchildren. Bill’s smile was perhaps the brightest in all of Medfield but it lit up even more whenever he talked about his grandchildren. Almost every conversation I had with Bill almost always got around to some achievement or accomplishment of Sarah, Catherine, Colton or Cally. The pride was so written all over his face. All the hours he spent working and building up Lords, all his personal time he sacrificed, for really his entire life, had paid off through his children and now his grandchildren.

I think … I think that was his satisfaction; his life had really made a difference for his family. I  don’t know of any greater family value or commitment than that. I can think of no greater American success story to tell that that of Bill Kelly.

Don’t get me wrong, the hours and sacrifice did not drag Bill down. He always made the best of it;  his personality, smile, the way he made you feel welcome to the store, drew people to him. His upbeat ways were contagious to all he met. No one more served the public than Bill Kelly. There are great stories of how he would go out of his way to find an item wanted by a customer if Lords didn’t sell it.

Not too long ago a senior citizen came in looking for type-writer ribbon, a relic that probably the high school student working in Lords didn’t even know what it was. Bill spent most of the day driving around looking for someone who did sell it. He finally found some, returned to Lords, called the lady and then, not to the over agreement of Tom and Nancy, sold it to the lady for what it cost him - not factoring in his time or gas costs.

Those of you who knew Bill Kelly need no reminders from me about who he was, what he meant and what he stood for. His love of country, his patriotism was seen through the displays, bunting, and flags on the store, contributions to veteran plaques and remembrances, always being at the Memorial Day parades, his active involvement with the American Legion, Beckwith Post 110 … as June, Nancy and Tom point out, his receiving his Medfield High School diploma 50 years after he left high school and went off to war, and receiving it with his fellow veterans, was clearly a high-point of his life.

Today Bill’s earth body will come home to Medfield to lie in rest in Vine Lake Cemetery. But at this moment Bill is at home in heaven; Red Palumbo has already greeted him, golf club in hand, and told him he had been holding the tee time since last February, when he was supposed to have been here. But Bill Kelly’s life did not end on May 13th; no, it will go on and on in each of us; each of us he touched in someway; The life lessons, the old fashion Protestant work ethic he instilled in so many kids; in hundreds of different ways that little piece of Bill Kelly, that is in each of us  here this morning, will keep his impact alive for the rest of our lives.

We are all better off because of our having known him and his little town of Medfield is better off because of the time he spent here. Medfield lost more than an 88-year-old resident this past week; it lost a treasured piece of its heart and soul.

The quality of Bill’s life, the glory of Bill’s life was in the so many friends that he made … more than he probably knew he had ... best summarized perhaps by the poet Yeats when he said; “Count where a man’s glory most begins and ends and say, my glory was that I had such friends."

We miss you Bill, you have made each of our lives a little richer and until we meet again, thank you for who you were and thank you for being a part of our lives.

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