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James M. Kelly

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BOSTON --City Councilman James M. Kelly, a former sheet metal worker who made a name for himself fighting court-ordered school busing in the 1970s and remained a fixture in Boston politics for more than two decades, died Tuesday after a long battle with cancer, his son said. He was 66.

Kelly, who served a record seven consecutive years as president of Boston's City Council in the 1990s, was diagnosed nearly four years ago with colon cancer. He underwent chemotherapy and radiation, and was back at work full time a few months later.

However, the cancer spread to his lungs and brain, and in November 2005 he had two tumors removed from his brain. He had been under hospice care for the past five days, according to a statement from his son, James M. Kelly Jr.

Kelly was known as a fierce advocate for his South Boston neighborhood and a union supporter. A father of three and grandfather of seven, he lived in the same apartment his parents bought in South Boston 48 years ago.

"He was a true gentlemen, a man of his word whose convictions always came from the heart," Mayor Thomas Menino said. "Jimmy Kelly was a friend of mine and will be greatly missed by all."

First elected to the council in 1983, Kelly served as president from 1994-2000. He was re-elected in November. His district included one of the most diverse in the city, comprising South Boston, Chinatown, the South End, Bay Village, and St. Margaret's Parish in Dorchester.

Kelly was a member of the Boston Building Trades for more than 40 years, and for the past 24 years has served as the Recording Secretary of Local 17.

Former Mayor Raymond Flynn and Kelly knew each other their entire lives, playing football together in high school in South Boston.

"We worked together for better neighborhoods and yes, we often strongly disagreed on issues," Flynn said. "But he was my friend and we shared family events, weddings and graduations together. Jimmy gave it his all."

Kelly's son said his father died at 4:19 a.m. Tuesday, surrounded by family and close friends. Details of funeral services were pending.

"As he struggled with this disease for the last few years, my father was enormously grateful for the outpouring of love and affection from his friends and neighbors," Kelly said.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press

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