John B. Kelly, Jr.

John B. Kelly, Jr.

John Brenden Kelly, Jr. (born May 24, 1927 in Philadelphia – died May 2, 1985 in Philadelphia), also known as Kell Kelly or Jack Kelly, was an accomplished oarsman, a four-time Olympian, and an Olympic medal winner. He was also the son of triple Olympic gold medal winner John B. Kelly, Sr. In 1947, Kelly was awarded the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States.

Kelly's sister was the famous movie-star-turned-princess, Grace Kelly (HSH Princess Grace of Monaco), which makes him the maternal uncle of Monaco's current monarch Albert II of Monaco. Kelly gave his Olympic Bronze medal to her as a wedding present. Kelly's uncle George Kelly was a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright.

Kelly became active in politics and was a strong supporter of athletics, and in 1985 was appointed President of the United States Olympic Committee.

ports and rowing

Kelly represented the United States at the 1948 Summer Olympics at London, England, the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland and the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia in rowing in the single scull (1x). And he represented the United States in the double scull (2x) at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. Kelly won a bronze medal at the 1956 Games. He also won the gold medal at the 1955 Pan American Games in Mexico City.

Kelly at Henley

Kelly was the son of John B. Kelly, Sr. who won 2 gold medals at the 1920 Summer Olympics, capturing both the single scull (1x) and the double scull (2x). The senior Kelly repeated his victory in the double scull at the 1924 Summer Olympics. In 1920, despite his accomplishments as an oarsman, the senior Kelly's entry was rejected at the most prestigious rowing event in the world, the Henley Royal Regatta. According to the minutes of the regatta’s Committee of Management, Kelly was excluded both because, having worked as a bricklayer, he was not eligible under the regatta's then rules on amateurism (which excluded anyone '...who is or ever has been ... by trade or employment for wages a mechanic, artisan or labourer) and because he was a member of Vesper Boat Club, banned in 1906 after members of their 1905 crew raised money through a public subscription to pay for their travel expenses. [NYTimes, June 25, 1906 ] Kelly’s exclusion was widely reported in newspapers in both the UK and USA, with many seeing it as an attempt to prevent an American from winning the Diamonds. [cite book
author= Burnell, Richard
title = Henley Royal Regatta: A celebration of 150 years
publisher = William Heinemann
year = 1989
isbn = 0 434 98134 6

In 1947 the junior Kelly extracted revenge by winning the Diamond Challenge Sculls (single scull) at the Henley, the event that his still-famous father had been denied entrance. Kelly was awarded the 1947 James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States for his achievement. Kelly repeated his victory at Henley in 1949.

Kelly at the Olympics

At the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, Kelly competed on the same course Henley course where he had won the Diamond Challenge Sculls the year before. Kelly won his opening heat, but did not make the finals after finishing second to eventual Silver Medalist Eduardo Risso in the semi-finals. (Due to course width constrictions, the Henley course could only handle a 3 boat final).

At the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Kelly again won his opening heat. In the semi-final, which was one to qualify, Kelly finished second to eventual champion Yuri Tyukalov, and Kelly was relegated to the repechage, or second-chance race, which was also one to qualify for the final. In the repechage, Kelly's main competitor was Teodor Kocerka of Poland. They fought all the way down the course with Kocerka, who would go on to win the Bronze medal, prevailing in a close finish.

At the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Kelly won his Olympic medal, a bronze. He was beaten by two teenage prodigies, Vyacheslav Ivanov of Russia and Stuart Mackenzie of Australia, but Kelly beat Teodor Kocerka, who had beaten Kelly four years earlier. Kelly gave the medal to his sister Grace, who married Prince Rainier earlier that year, as a wedding present. He would later quip that he had hoped it would have been a different color.

In 1960, Kelly competed in the double scull at his final Olympics in Rome. His boat would be eliminated in the repechage.

Kelly's continued involvement in sports

In 1964, following his retirement from rowing, Kelly acted as manager for the United States Olympic 8-man boat. It was composed of rowers from the Vesper Boat Club, to which Kelly also belonged. That boat won a Gold Medal at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. In 1968, Kelly served as a member of the national committee for the Modern pentathlon.

Kelly became a passionate advocate for the athletes. He was elected president of the Amateur Athletic Union in 1970 and stirred controversy by arguing that the amateur code had become outmoded thereby helping free the Olympics from sham amateurism. [] .

In 1974, Kelly headed a group of Philadelphia business men who became owners of the Philadelphia Bell a franchise in the now defunct World Football League. Kelly's name and connection were important in giving the franchise legitimacy and in negotiating agreements with the city of Philadelphia. However, as the first season progressed, Kelly step aside as the team president in favor of John Bosacco who owned a controlling interest in the franchise.

In 1985, Kelly was elected president of the United States Olympic Committee. The appointment was short-lived. Kelly died unexpectedly later that year. Kelly was posthumously inducted into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame as a contributor. Kelly and his father are the only parent-child duo in the Olympic Hall of Fame.

Business and professional life

Kelly was actively involved in politics and served for 12 years as City Councilman-At-Large in Philadelphia (D). Kelly also served on the Fairmount Park Commission. He was a respected businessman as owner of "Kelly for Brickwork", a company started by his father, John B. Kelly, Sr..

Personal life

Kelly served in the United States Navy during World War II. He was stationed in Bainbridge, Maryland. His sister Grace Kelly often drove him back to the base from Philadelphia when he returned from leave; Grace already had a reputation as a "wild driver."

Kelly graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1950 and participated on the rowing team for the school. While in school, he is known to have dated BeBe Shopp, Miss America for 1948.

Kelly's first wife was Mary Gray Freeman (now known as Mary Spitzer), the 1951 national women's champion in swimming and a member of the United States swimming team destined for the 1952 Olympics at Helsinki. (She appeared on the cover of Life Magazine on July 23, 1951). The couple had six children, including John B. Kelly, III, Susan von Medicus, and Liz Kelly, now deceased.

Following his divorce, Kelly married Sandra Worley, a banker, on May 28, 1981. Kelly died in 1985 while jogging to The Athletic Club after his customary morning row on the Schuylkill.

Achievements and awards

* Diamond Scull, Henley Royal Regatta, 1947 and 1949
* James E. Sullivan Award Winner 1947
* Member US Olympic team 1948, 1952, 1956 and 1960
* Gold Medal, 1955 Pan American Games, single scull
* Gold Medal, 1959 Pan American Games, double scull
* Bronze Medal, 1956 Olympics, single scull
* 8-time United States National Champion, single scull
* Member US rowing Hall of Fame, elected 1956
* Manager for the 1964 Olympic Gold Medal eight man boat
* President of the United States Olympic Committee.
* United States Olympic Hall of Fame, as a contributor
* City Councilman (D), Philadelphia, PA


* []
* [ Olympic database]
* [ Schuylkill Navy site on Kelly, et. al.]
* [ NY Times Obituary]
*Boathouse Row


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