It was 1978 or 1979 when I first encountered Edward T. Kelly. I was fresh out of Temple University, wearing my Journalism degree on my sleeve, ready to set rivers on fire, and here was Ed Kelly literally running around the main banquet room at the Doral Caterers in Rhawnhurst with me in hot pursuit.
Well, I was trying to catch up to him anyway.
“Rizzo’s coming! Rizzo’s coming, kid!” he said, frantically placing materials on each table in the hall shortly before a Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce luncheon at which former Mayor Frank L. Rizzo had scheduled a last-minute appearance.
“Got a lot to do today,” he said, breathlessly. “Got no time to talk to you today.”
Weekly newspaper reporters—especially in the days when the dailies were king—are very familiar with rejection. However, Ed Kelly promised me an interview at a later date.
“Stick around for lunch, kid,” he said. “You know Rizzo, he’s always entertaining.”
I don’t remember much about the lunch, but Ed Kelly was as good as his word. We met a few days later, and thus began a friendship that lasted over 30 years until his death Aug. 20 at age 86.
In his heyday, Ed Kelly might have been the greatest promoter of his time. But, frankly, he rarely spoke to me about himself. It was through others that I learned about his personal successes and his undying love for his family.
He literally devoted much of his adult life to the Pennypack Park Music Festival, and once a cause worked its way into his heart, look out: He would not give up until he got your attention.
During my nearly 28 years at the News Gleaner newspapers, Ed Kelly planted himself in my office on numerous occasions on behalf of projects that benefited others or for people who needed help. He was so passionate about some things, he would break down and cry.
He grew up in the teeth of the Depression, and like so many others from that era, he never forgot how lucky he was to have survived.
Every now and then, you across someone like Ed Kelly, and you’re better because of it.
Heaven, beware: Tell the angels to tune their trumpets. You’ve got a music festival coming your way.
(Don Brennan was executive editor of the News Gleaner newspapers from 1978 to 2006).