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Dick Kelley: An Appreciation

02/19/14
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Dick Kelley in his favorite spot: at the center of Boston College Athletics. (Photo courtesy of BC Athletics)

By Reid Oslin | Special to the Chronicle

Published: Feb. 19, 2014

Hundreds of mourners – among them former Boston College student-athletes, past and present coaches, University administrators and his legions of friends – stood in long lines at a local funeral home and then filled St. Ignatius Church last week to pay tribute to the life of one of BC’s most beloved figures, Richard "Dick" Kelley '87, MA '89.

Dick Kelley, 48, BC’s assistant athletics director for media relations since 1991, died on Feb. 13 after a nearly-three year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a deadly nerve disease that causes the steady loss of voluntary muscle movement.

What made Dick so special to those who flocked here to bid him farewell – and to those many others who had him in their thoughts and prayers last week – was his constant and unwavering concern for the University’s student-athletes. A highly skilled writer, editor and media relations professional, Dick saw far beyond the mere statistics of sports competition, and spent countless hours mentoring, counseling, encouraging and, occasionally, chastising BC student-athletes on aspects of life well beyond the playing field or arena.
 
A story oft-retold in recent days concerned Matt Ryan ’07, a star football player who drew extraordinary amounts of media attention during his celebrated collegiate career: “You’re a Boston College graduate,” Dick told the prize quarterback one day. “Why don’t you sound like it once in a while?”

Dick then proceeded to sit the young Ryan down in his office and helpfully provide a host of tips on handling media interviews efficiently, the importance of using proper grammar and speaking techniques, and other suggestions that would help to polish the player’s – and the University’s – image in this media-hungry world.
 
Last week, Ryan, now quarterback for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, said in a tweet from his home in Georgia, “Sad to hear the news about the passing of [Dick Kelley]. He was one of my favorite people during my time at BC and a huge influence to me.”
 
Reggie Jackson ’09, currently a professional basketball player for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, sent a similar message: “Words can’t express how much you mean to me and BC.”

But you didn’t have to be an all-star for Dick to take an interest in your well-being, your academic progress and your future. “He didn’t care if you scored 20 points a night or sat on the bench and waved your towel,” said Brian Ross ’02, a former basketball student-athlete who today is a financial services professional in Boston. “He was a great person, a great mentor and a great friend. Whether you were a ‘lottery pick’ or just a kid from North Quincy, ‘DK’ always wanted and expected the best out of you.”
 
Dick also delighted in educating a generation of would-be writers and sports administrators who worked in or with the Sports Media office. On a new student’s first day on the job, Dick would issue a sheet of grammar rules, and demand that they be carefully followed. He then proceeded to mentor the young journalists-to-be, offering writing and editing advice throughout their tenure in the department. Dozens of BC alumni have made their careers in media after learning the trade from Dick Kelley.
 
Of the hundreds of heartfelt remembrances that flowed from the University community during Dick’s illness and death, two stand out to this colleague. One epitomized his devotion and loyalty to Boston College’s student-athletes, even as his own health ebbed away. The second recounts an athlete’s gratitude to him:

-  It was Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012, and the Boston College hockey team was returning to campus from Tampa, Fla., where the night before, the Eagles had won the NCAA Championship with a solid 4-1 victory over Ferris State University. With most students at home for the long holiday weekend and many local fans engaged in family activities, few people were on hand when the team bus pulled up to Conte Forum. One of them was Dick Kelley.

Although his body was wracked from the surging ALS, he had willed himself to get to campus to be on hand when coach Jerry York and his triumphant team returned home. He was unable to stand, and a folding chair was quietly provided for him to wait. When the team finally arrived, each player and coach greeted him with a hearty handshake, a gentle hug, or – as hockey players everywhere are wont to do – a playful poke to the ribs.

Finally, team co-captain Tommy Cross stepped off the bus with the gleaming NCAA prize. With his strong hands, Cross held the trophy close to Dick, who did not have the ability to grasp it. He could only weep with joy as he was finally able to share in “his Eagles’” grand accomplishment.

-  Last spring, the Chicago Blackhawks won the coveted Stanley Cup as champions of the National Hockey League. As part of the Cup tradition, each player on the winning team is allowed to have the famous three-foot tall icon for a day. Former Eagle Ben Smith ‘10 got his chance to show off hockey’s ultimate team prize on July 16 when he was honored in his hometown of Avon, Conn. After the civic celebration, Smith and his parents drove to Chestnut Hill, where following a quick visit to BC they headed to Dick Kelley’s apartment on Commonwealth Avenue.

Smith walked unannounced into the living area and plunked the 35-lb. Stanley Cup right at the foot of Dick’s recliner. He looked his mentor straight in the eye and said, “Dick, I couldn’t have accomplished things like this in my life without the support of people like you.”

Dick Kelley lived Boston College’s motto of “Ever to Excel” in his life, in his work, and in his spirit. He will be missed.

Requiescat in Pace, Dick.

Reid Oslin worked for the Admission Office, the Athletics Department and the Office of News & Public Affairs during his 41 years at Boston College.