- Not to be confused with John J. Kelley, another distance runner, similarly named.
September 6, 1907|
Medford, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||October 6, 2004
South Yarmouth, Massachusetts, U.S.
Born in West Medford, Massachusetts as one of ten children, Kelley ran track and cross-country at Arlington High School in Massachusetts. He did not finish his first Boston Marathon in 1928, but eventually competed in a record 61 Boston Marathons.
A legend of the marathon, Kelley won the 1935 and 1945 runnings of the Boston Marathon. He finished in second place at Boston a record seven times. Between 1934 to 1950, he finished in the top five 15 times at Boston, consistently running in the 2:30s. He ran his last full marathon at Boston in 1992 at the age of 84, his 61st start and 58th finish there. For two more years he ran the last seven miles. Kelley also ran the Yonkers Marathon 29 times.
A member of the U.S. Olympic Team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, he finished 18th in the marathon.
In 1993, a statue of Kelley to commemorate him was erected near the City Hall of Newton, Massachusetts, on the Boston Marathon course, one hill and about one mile prior to the foot of Heartbreak Hill.
Kelley was named "Runner of the Century" by Runner's World magazine in 2000. According to his New York Times obituary, he enjoyed painting and worked in natural landscapes, producing about 20 paintings a year. One commissioned work is "The Boston Dream", a Primitive School painting showing the marathon course, with Hopkinton and Boston rising from the distance, as two winter runners—a woman and a man—train for their "Boston Dream".
John A. Kelley should not be confused with 1957 Boston Marathon winner John J. Kelley, who bears no relation. In an effort to distinguish them, the two champions came to be known as "Kelley the Elder" and "Kelley the Younger", respectively.
"For me, the race these days is to try to beat the girls to the finish and to wave to all my old friends along the course."—Kelley at age 65
At age 70 he was still running 50 miles a week and around 15 races a year.
"I'm afraid to stop running. I feel too good. I want to stay alive."—Kelley at age 70
He is buried in Quivet Neck Cemetery, East Dennis, Massachusetts.
- "Seko Clocks A Boston Record". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). AP. April 21, 1981. p. 19. Retrieved January 13, 2011.
- The Boston Globe: At Heartbreak Hill, a salute to a marathoner for the ages, April 19, 1993 The Globe writer erroneously refers to the statue's location as the foot of Heartbreak Hill. The statue's site, at Commonwealth Avenue and Walnut Street, near Newton City Hall, is at mile 19.2 on the course, while the foot of Heartbreak Hill is at or near 20.4 miles (Boston Athletic Association "Welcome" booklet, April 18, 2005, p. 20).
- New York Times obituary, October 8, 2004 Retrieved 2008-03-19
- Kelley's Famous Inspirational Painting: "The Boston Dream"
- Profile at www.sports-reference.com
- Obituary at ESPN
- Photo story and obituary in the Boston Globe Retrieved 2008-03-19
- Postcards written and sent by Johnny Kelley from the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games