Roland A. Kelly Jr.

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SOUTH BEND -- Roland A. Kelly Jr., a Common Council member, former banker and news anchor died Saturday at the age of 80.

Kelly was hospitalized earlier this month for group A strep, which developed into an infection.

Nearly a generation of area residents have known Kelly as a member of the South Bend Common Council, a post he held for 16 years before deciding not to seek another term earlier this year. A Democrat, he represented South Bend's 3rd District.

Earlier generations knew Kelly as a banker and as a television news anchor and news director for WSBT-TV.

All of those generations knew him as a "solid citizen" and "a man cut of good cloth," according to a former boss, E. Berry Smith.

"He was a man that even as kids we had a great deal of respect for, for his commitment to his community and to things like the mentoring program," said his son, Randy Kelly.

Randy said even up until the last weekend before he became ill, Roland was spending time with his family and going to his grandchildrens' soccer games.

"He was as wonderful in the house as he was outside of the house," Randy said.

Smith, who served as general manager at WSBT-TV from 1981 to 1989, had high praise for Kelly, whose second term as news director ran from 1983 to 1985.

"He was a man of many talents and all good," Smith said, praising Kelly for his leadership and work ethic.

Randy Kelly said he remembers at age 9 getting in the car with his mother and driving to the WSBT studios to pick up Roland in the evening after newscasts.

"They'd buzz me in the back door and I would just stand by the camera and wait. He would give me a wink or a nod," Randy said.

"He was such a neat guy," said City Clerk John Voorde, who worked closely with Kelly when Kelly served on the council. "He always had the community's interests at heart."

Voorde said Kelly never seemed to have an ulterior motive or a personal agenda. "It was always, 'What's best for the city?'"

On tough calls, such as controversial proposed amendments to the South Bend Human Rights Ordinance to include gay, lesbian and transgendered people in the city's anti-discrimination law, Kelly didn't back down, Voorde recalled.

"He equated it to the whole civil rights movement," said Voorde. "It was simple for him. There's a right and a wrong."

Kelly said in a Tribune interview this past February that he wanted to see the Common Council continue to work on and pass the amendments.

"I think all we're doing is guaranteeing the rights of these people, the rights that they're already guaranteed under the Constitution of the United States. But in many cases they're discriminated against, and I think they ought to have some recourse. And that's what we were trying to do.

"People, I think, got the wrong impression. We were not endorsing that lifestyle by any means or moving for gay marriage or anything like that."

Voorde said Kelly represented a generation of local government figures, such as the late Ideal Baldoni and the late Irene Gammon, that is rapidly dwindling away.

Kelly also served on the Area Plan Commission, Century Center Board of Managers and with numerous organizations.

Kelly was born Oct. 21, 1926, in Port Chester, N.Y., to parents Mary Agnes Harbolick and Roland A. Kelly Sr.

He grew up there, graduating from Port Chester Senior High School in 1944. After graduation, at the age of 17, he joined the U.S. Naval Air Corps to fight in World War II.

While a student at the University of Notre Dame he worked at Clark's Lunch Room in downtown South Bend. He graduated from the university in 1950.

On Sept. 4, 1948 he married Merrice Joyce Lane of South Bend at St. Patrick's Church. The two were married for 54 years. She died Feb. 23, 2003.

Kelly will be remembered in many ways. He was a trusted newsman, a bank official, a city council member and a volunteer for various organizations.

Many remember hearing his voice on WSBT radio and watching him as a television news anchor on the evening news. He also served as news director twice during his career with the station.

Kelly was employed in the news department at WSBT-TV from 1954-1972, the last seven years as news director.

He left the station to become vice-president and director of marketing for the St. Joseph Bank and Trust Co., serving from 1972-1983.

Kelly then re-joined WSBT as news director, staying from 1983 until his retirement in 1985.

He then went on to become the vice-president for business development at St. Joseph Bank and Trust Co. He retired from Key Bank in 1996.

Kelly was a talented singer, actor and director.

He was a regular performer in the South Bend Press Club Gridiron Hoaxes show. As roastmaster in 1972 and again in 1981, Kelly grilled headtable guests with barbs and satirical comments.

He was also chosen to serve as roastmaster at the Achievement Forum awards banquet in 1990.

In addition to those activities, he was involved with the Presbyterian Players and headed the musical group, "Roland Kelly Singers."

Kelly was a member and former president of the YMCA. He also was a key organizer for the community's annual Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebrations.

Randy said his father had a great love for his alma mater, Notre Dame, and for the South Bend community.

"He genuinely believed in the idea of service and needing to take care of the people around you," Randy said. "If he were around, he would offer a heartfelt thank-you to the people in this community for embracing him."

Kelly is survived by two sons, Randy Kelly and Jason Kelly, both of South Bend; daughter, Laurie Dow of Hindale, Ill.; seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Jason is a Tribune sports columnist.

Visitation will be from 3 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday at McGann Hay Funeral Homes' University Chapel, 2313 E. Edison Road, South Bend.

Funeral services will be at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, on the University of Notre Dame campus, where Kelly in 1950 earned a bachelor's degree. Burial will follow at Cedar Grove Cemetery, also on the campus. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Boys and Girls Club of St. Joseph County.
Published in South Bend Tribune on May 27, 2007
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