By John Cirillo
John Kelly was a bird-lover, a fact that might be somewhat difficult to fathom considering a sometimes rough, tough, and occasionally gruff demeanor which he wore on both sleeves, of course, with a smile. Beneath the sometimes blustery exterior was a solid, decent man, loving husband to his sweetheart Carol, great father and grandpop, and the good guy who watched and fed the birds.
We sadly lost Kelly to the pearly gates on Friday, his flight departing shockingly far too early. In boxing, we call the blow a punch to the solar plexis, one from which it’s difficult to recover.
I never asked him which fine, feathered friend was his favorite, but here’s what I was able to discern based on personal experience and observation:
Kelly’s favorite – had to be the Eagles, talons down! After all, he was a proud Army veteran, serving in the Viet Nam War, and the Eagle is this country’s national bird.
And then, of course, there’s this: while most from his generation loved the “oldies but goodies,” which he did, Kelly the music-lover rocked to the California classics put forth by The Eagles – the band – from Take It Easy to Hotel California to Already Gone to Take It to The Limit. I thought of John when The Eagles co-founder and guitarist/lyricist Glenn Frey passed away last month, but never had the chance to catch up for a toast to the legendary rocker. Wish I did.
Our region’s bird of flight, the red-tailed hawk which majestically soars the Westchester skies, is a must for inclusion as runner up in the Kelly “best of the birds” category. I learned this morning (Tuesday) during a moving eulogy by 40-year friend Pete Ubriaco, that Kelly adored another high-flying, bird-band, The Hawks, actually Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks. Need Your Lovin’, Forty Days and Suzie Q were just a few of their many hits.
I recall with great delight the countless New Year’s Eve celebrations, at which Fran and John – the two “Chappies”— became part of the “Pleasantville Posse,” and were privileged to be included.
Kelly was a smart as a whip, from back in the day as high school valedictorian at Briarcliff to earning his JD from Columbia School of Law to serving as Assistant DA for the State of NY. I’d relish being on Kelly’s team in the “Toast in the New Year” quiz competitions pitting the Gallos, Woods, Nicholls, McManes, Ubriacos, Cirillos, Whollys and Kellys on assorted squads. Not as much for his knowledge in the sports, music and news categories, though that was keen. But more so because he was particularly adept at needling the losing teams in fiery, courtroom-fashion should we emerge victorious. All in fun, of course, but we won a few as teammates over the years, a badge of honor.
As a sports aficionado, and avid Yankees, Rangers and Giants fan, honorable mentions of high-flying favorites, although they’re rival teams, have to include the Orioles, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Black Hawks, Penguins, Ducks, Hawks, Eagles, Ravens and Seahawks.
Maybe all this bird-watching effected his golf game, which was usually not what he wanted it to be.
The “Pleasantville Posse” has been reduced by one, an immeasurable loss. We are so much poorer at his passing, but rich indeed for the good times that we shared. The birds will miss him, too.