Maurice Patrick Kelly, a carpenter who was patching a ceiling for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 103rd floor of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, had a tattoo of the Grim Reaper on his arm, a symbol of a harrowing life that only now, after 41 years, seemed to be improving.
Mr. Kelly raised himself in a family of alcoholics, said his younger sister, Claire Dawson. A grandmother in Pelham, N.Y., put the children through parochial school and looked after them whenever their mother, divorced when the children were small, disappeared - out of money or on the prowl with a new boyfriend.
On one visit to their grandmother, when Maurice was 16 and Claire was 12, a chilling telegram arrived: "Due to unforeseen circumstances I will not be able to pick up the children." A year later, Mr. Kelly's mother reappeared, with a man in tow, himself a drinker and gambler. She wanted to take the children to Maryland, but Maurice refused. Instead, he lived on his own, an 11th-grade dropout, trying to care for his father, who died of complications of alcoholism. Years later, when his mother was dying, Mr. Kelly refused to say goodbye.
Mr. Kelly's own marriage ended in divorce, with a 17-year-old daughter remaining with her mother, and two sons, 7 and 10, living with Mr. Kelly on City Island. But by then, he had apprenticed as a carpenter, loved his trade, worked shifts that allowed him time with his boys and had fallen in love again, with 33-year-old Melissa Sponheimer.
"He had a very sad life," said Mr. Kelly's aunt, Dorothy Gould, "and was finally finding happiness."
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on October 4, 2001.