Obituary of John Kelly
Our dear John “Jack” Francis Kelly died on Monday, October 15, 2018. His death came one year after his beloved wife of 69 years Shirley Marie Kelly. During these almost seven decades of marriage the loving couple shared a home together remaining remarkably independent despite old age. Fewer than five percent of WWII Veterans are alive today, and Jack’s family feels blessed to have had him in their lives for so long. He inspired four generations with his patriotism and faith.
Jack was born on December 18, 1926, in East Haven, CT. His parents John and Catherine Kelly nee Madigan had immigrated from Ireland following a generational struggle with poverty. Jack grew up working the family’s pig farm just that bordered New Haven, CT with sisters Jean Petrillo, Catherine Mulcahy, and Rita St. Jacques. The family lost the farm under eminent domain when the state built the I-95 expressway—what is now the primary connection between Boston and New York City. Jack shared this story hundreds of times over the years, reliving his own piece of history.
At seventeen, Jack enlisted in the Navy. He was a decorated veteran having proudly served as a signalman in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Wisconsin during WWII. His war-induced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) would impact his life until he died, affecting his ability to ever fully adapt to civilian family life with his cherished wife Shirley. Like so many service members, Jack suffered in silence and self-medicated his discomfort with alcohol.
There is much misunderstanding surrounding illness like PTSD and the disease of alcoholism and Jack’s family was not immune to such confusion. Jack faced his struggles with honesty and bravery. He refused to hold family babies, not because he he was unkind, but because he feared that a cry could startle him and cause him to drop a baby. He declined to attend family weddings, even though he joyfully loved his family, out of fear of crowds and loud music could trigger his PTSD. He found solace and peace on the open road, driving tractor trailer trucks.
Jack was extremely bright, athletic, entrepreneurial, patriotic, and charismatic. He could draw anyone into a story, painting vivid, colorful details to transport listeners to a far-away land or a distant era. He always welcomed family into his home and they would gather around to his stories of war and his decades of life on the road. He enjoyed taking his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren hiking, bird watching, and walking along the Long Island Sound shoreline, spotting lighthouses and collecting shells. He adored the family dog, a chocolate lab named Cookie who joined him on walks. Fitness was important to Jack. He followed a disciplined regimen of calisthenics and free weights daily. Through his early 80s, he would meet his war buddies for laps in the Atlantic Ocean.
Although Jack did not have the opportunity to complete high school, he had a lifelong passion for learning. He loved going to libraries and always brought his wife Shirley along to enjoy the hunt for new reading material. Jack was a voracious reader, devouring no fewer than three newspapers a day cover to cover—the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the New Haven Register--along with periodicals, journals, and novels. He subscribed to the New England and Harvard Journals of Medicine and would educate himself on cutting-edge accomplishments in health, often seeking to outsmart his VA doctors. He watched the stock market like a hawk, and enthusiastically enjoyed all things economic. He was proud of having conservatively invested his earnings from his decades of service as a truck driver. He enjoyed real estate and for a time also owned Kelly Realty. Despite his successes, he was never a spendthrift. He refused to buy anything on credit. He never forgot food rations during the Great Depression, his parents’ stories of famine in Ireland, and the family’s lost farm. Jack passed on these experiences and life lessons to his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Jack is survived by his three sons DK, John, Michael; his grandchildren Melissa O’Neil, Meghan O’Neil, Jennifer Kerr, Nicole Weimholt, and James Kelly; his great-grandchildren Sergeant Roberto Anthony Torrens, Sarah Marie and Brannagh Kuebler. He is predeceased by his wife Shirley Anne Kelly, his son Donald, his daughter Shirley Marie O’Neil; and sisters Catherine, Jean, and Rita. Sgt. Torrens keeps Jack’s legacy alive with proud service to his country.
Please join Jack’s family for a Memorial Mass honoring Jack’s life on Friday October 26, 2018 at 9:30am in St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church Church, Taylor Ave., East Haven with Committal and Military Honors to follow at East Lawn Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to Dawn Farm, a non-profit community of programs that helps people overcome dependency on alcohol and reunite with their families. Donations can be made at: https://www.dawnfarm.org/donate-now/
Jack will be missed dearly, and his family is thankful that he is now finally at peace. In honor of Jack’s memory, his family would like to share several resources. If you are a veteran and struggle with PTSD please do not hesitate to ask for help. Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, press 1. If you are struggling with alcohol, please see www.aa.org for resources nationwide. For others reading this, please consider smiling next time you pass a veteran. Extend a hand, wave hello, and be a good neighbor. These were the values that Jack lived every day.