By Michael Muldoon
---- — Dick Kelley could have gone to top law schools or pursued several lucrative business opportunities out of college.
Later on, other universities and professional sports teams offered jobs.
But Dick Kelley leave Boston College? Preposterous! Kelley, who never married, and the school had a nearly 30-year love affair.
Kelley, Boston College’s longtime sports information director, lost his nearly three-year battle with ALS — amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — last Thursday, Feb. 13. The Andover native was 48.
A quiet, humble man, his impact was profound on the school, its athletes and its teams. The dreaded Lou Gehrig’s disease soon robbed him of his speech and his mobility, but his character and compassion remained as strong as a 300-pound Boston College lineman.
Legendary BC hockey coach Jerry York was a close friend of Kelley’s.
“If we can model our lives, all of us, watching how he went through his life, that will be our tribute to Richard,” York said.
“I was fortunate to list him as a real friend from my first press conference until his untimely death.”
The Eagles were wearing a “DK” decal on their helmets in their recent game against the University of Vermont.
“That will be our tribute to Richard,” said York, who praised Kelley for “always trying to make us better as people, not just hockey and basketball players.”
Kelley’s relationship with the university was unique. Colleagues marvel at the hours he put in. About the only one who ever beat him to the office was the workaholic coach Tom Coughlin in his days at the Heights.
“BC remained everything to Dick,” said Tim Clark of the BC sports information department. “He remained an employee of the institution until physically he couldn’t do it any more. It speaks to the level of devotion he had to the place.”
And BC was devoted to Kelley, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Jesuit school. Kelley, a devout Catholic, was blessed to have two incredibly loving and loyal families.
The first, of course, were the Kelleys: parents Ed and Ann of Andover, brother Ted and sister-in-law Carrie of Foxboro, and brother Patrick of Andover. They’ve made extraordinary sacrifices to make Dick’s life comfortable these last few years.
The second family was Boston College, especially his co-workers in the sports information department.
Paul Yannalfo, Kelley’s best friend since grade school, said, “He was just an incredibly genuine person. He had a lot of integrity. He was always trying to help others. It’s a legacy that won’t soon be forgotten.”
What amazed even those who knew Kelley best was his outlook while his body was ravaged by ALS.
“You see someone’s nature when they are dragged through this,” said Yannalfo, a financial planner who lives in Andover. “Every single time I walked in that room, he had a smile for me. He kept his sense of humor. It was hard.”
In a moving, lengthy story by Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel last May, Kelley said, “I have my highs and lows. Doesn’t everyone? Though many, many more of the former.”
Some of the most powerful people who came through BC were most touched by the Irishman with the quick wit dripping with sarcasm.
It’s been my great fortune to know Dick and the Kelley family for over 30 years. Visiting his apartment last year, I couldn’t resist, when nobody was looking, to take a peek at the note that Coughlin wrote to Dick in the two-time Super Bowl-winning coach’s book.
Even the toughest coach in the sport was moved by Kelley’s bravery.
Before ALS forced Kelley to use a feeding tube, the Kelley family said York would often bring his friend dinner and help feed him.
There are many stories of the BC community giving back to the man who gave it so much.
Ex-Eagles star Ben Smith visited Kelley’s apartment unannounced last summer ... with the Stanley Cup!
New York Rangers star Chris Kreider from Boxford and Phillips Academy would regularly stop by. Don’t anybody dare say a bad word around the Kelley family around basketball coach Steve Donahue, who, along with his players, was devoted to him until the end.
Kelley won several national awards. He was honored for his decades of selfless service to BC and to the media from coast to coast. But more so for the “quiet dignity,” as Clark called it, with which he faced his disease.
The last thing Dick sought was the spotlight, but he was front and center for one of the most memorable wins in BC basketball history.
Last March 3, Kelley was honored with the U.S. Basketball Writers Association’s prestigious Courage Award before the game. The usually church-quiet BC crowd, many moved to tears, gave Kelley one of the loudest and longest ovations in the 25-year history of the Conte Forum.
Kelley, too, couldn’t hold back the tears. BC had been in a tailspin and Virginia was coming off a win over third-ranked Duke. All appeared lost with BC down 8 with 4:27 left against one of the top defensive teams in the country.
But the Eagles stormed back and won with eight seconds left on a 3-pointer by Joe Rahon a mere feet away from where Kelley was seated in his wheelchair.
It was straight from Hollywood. The players then swarmed Kelley, planting kisses on his bald head.
Rahon said, “That shot was for you DK.”
Bigtime college athletes are often revered. Too much so. Dick was all about tough love. A stickler for grammar, he’d work tirelessly with the athletes on making a good impression. It served them well with press interviews. But more importantly, Kelley knew, on job interviews.
His message was simple and effective: positive and humble.
It was how Kelley lived his life.
As news spread of Kelley’s death, many went to Twitter to express their affection.
I’ll guarantee all of them read and re-read their tweets before hitting send. Even from heaven, Kelley would admonish them: “You’re a BC graduate, act like one.”
Atlanta Falcons star quarterback Matt Ryan tweeted, “He was one of my favorite people I met during my time at BC and a huge influence to me.”
Then a troubled teen, Chris Herren’s stint at BC was short-lived. He never forgot how Kelley was always there for him.
He tweeted, “Heaven got a HERO. RIP Mr. Dick Kelley A man who never left my side and served BC and its athletes with the utmost commitment and dedication.”
UConn sports information director Mike Enright tweeted, “Never met a SID who cared more about a school and its student-athletes than Dick Kelley at BC ... it was an honor to work with him.”
L.A. Clippers forward Jared Dudley tweeted, “He always taught me to be positive and humble. Helped me become more professional. Thank u.”