story & photos
by Christopher Annino
Johnny Kelley, the athlete, is one of the most decorated distance runners in the history of the United States of America. Kelley had several milestones in his running career including going to the Olympics twice and winning a Gold Medal at the Pan American Games. However Johnny Kelley’s most famous achievement was winning the Boston Marathon. Despite winning the Boston Marathon, Johnny Kelley, the person, was a very humble down to earth individual who cared about the environment, and helping those in need. Johnny never judged an individual and always kept a positive outlook on any challenges he had. Johnny had an infectious smile that was a constant reminder of how wonderful life truly is if you allow it. Kelley taught at Fitch Senior High School and coached track. Running was more than a hobby for him — it was a way of life. The local Mystic/ Groton community received a devastating blow when Johnny passed away three years ago. Johnny co-owned and operated Kelley’s Pace with his wife Jessie. There was many times friends would stop in the famous shoe store to discuss anything ranging from economics to gardening, Johnny was the go to person for advice.
Longtime friends of Johnny Kelley, Jim Roy and Spyros Barres along with many others in the community and athletic world felt that there should be a statue erected in Mystic as a reminder of the goodness that was not only Johnny Kelley as an athlete, but more so as a person. Around $87,000 was raised to commission sculptor Brian Hanlon to create the sculpture of Johnny running with his dog Brutus.
Amby Burfoot was one of Kelley’s first famous protégées; Kelley helped train Amby to win the Boston Marathon in 1968. On the international day of peace September 21, 2014, Amby along with many of Kelley’s friends including four time Boston marathon champion Bill Rogers, 1972 Boston Marathon Champion Nina Kuscisk, three time Boston Marathon Champion Sara Mae Berman, two time Boston Marathon Champion Geoff Smith, 1976 Boston Marathon Champion Jack Fultz, Julia Chase Brand, Patti Catalano Dillon, and Gloria Ratti, Vice President, Boston Athletic Association, gathered to give tribute to this wonderful athlete, but most importantly this wonderful human being.
During the ceremony Amby spoke about Johnny’s kindness in his speech and how he would stop in the middle of traffic to help a turtle cross a street. He later added “But one of the most important things Johnny taught all of us was about the importance of respect and humility.” Bill had said “Johnny was one of the true kings of the sport. He ran those events when running was hard.”
Jim Roy, Chairman, Johnny J Kelley Memorial Fund, mentioned that Johnny wouldn’t have wanted a statue of himself but what he would have enjoyed is people working together as a community for a positive cause.
At the end of the ceremony, all three of Johnny’s daughters, Julia Kelley Washington, Kathleen Kelley Gabriel and Eileen Kelley Edwards, gave a heartfelt speech before unveiling their father’s statue.
After the ceremony, many individuals’ shared fond memories of John’s legacy of kindness. Marie Ann Gravell, New London said, “Johnny and Jessie were both amazing people. Both were very modest I remember when Johnny gave me his 2nd place Boston marathon trophy. Neither of them cared much for material items.”
To help donate to the Johnny Kelley Memorial Fund, go to www.johnkelley.org.