I’ve been reluctant to write about Jimmy Kelly who died earlier this week. I did my share of critical pieces on Kelly but began to develop a relationship with him prior to joining the Mayor’s office in 2003. Kelly was a real person, perhaps too real for a public figure of our time. He fought ferociously for his constituents, many of whom swarmed East Broadway for his wake yesterday and funeral today.
I was over at St. Brigid’s yesterday. There were two lines leading into the Church. I opted for the one farther down the street, which, for whatever reason, was the one without the dignitaries. Old guys with scally caps, aging women pulling their coats tight to fend off the cold, middle-aged men with weathered faces — they all waited patiently to pay their respects to the man.
When I joined the mayor in 2003, Jimmy Kelly didn’t have any real reason to be nice to me. Over time, I’d find myself pulling into the garage and parking across from his old car with a “Free Kenny Conley” bumper sticker. Sometimes we’d be entering or exiting around the same time. As the months passed, I found myself chatting with him more and more, not necessarily about politics. I remember an event that Kelly appeared at with Mayor Menino. It was the opening of a boxing gym at the L Street Bathouse. The club grew out of a desire by community activists and young people to provide at-risk kids with an activity that might appeal to them. Given South Boston’s great tradition of boxing, it was a logical way to keep these kids busy. And Kelly really fought for it. At the event, he spoke about his love of boxing and what it could do for these young people. Afterwards, I mentioned to him that I was a boxing fan. He regaled me with old-time tales of Tony DeMarco’s battle with Carmen Basilio. For the remainder of my time with the city, Kelly and I often talked sports.
Sometimes in politics — but all too rare today — you get to know the real person. I was lucky to get to know Jimmy Kelly.