John B. Kelly Jr.

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John B. Kelly Jr.
John B. Kelly Jr 1945c.jpg
Kelly in 1945
Personal information
Birth name John Brendan Kelly Jr.
Nickname(s) Kell Kelly
Jack Kelly
Nationality American
Born (1927-05-24)May 24, 1927
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died March 2, 1985(1985-03-02) (aged 57)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Resting place Holy Sepulchre Cemetery
Alma mater University of Pennsylvania
Height 185 cm (6 ft 1 in)[1]
Weight 83 kg (183 lb)
Mary Gray Freeman
(m. 1954; div. 1980)
Sandra Worley (m. 1981–1985)
Sport Rowing
Club Vesper Boat Club[1]

John Brendan "Jack" Kelly Jr. (May 24, 1927 – March 2, 1985), also known as Kell Kelly, was an accomplished rower, a four-time Olympian, and an Olympic medal winner. He was also the son of triple Olympic gold medal winner John B. Kelly Sr., and the elder brother of the actress and Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly. In 1947, Kelly was awarded the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States.

Early life and family[edit]

Kelly in 1945

Kelly was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was the second child and only son of John Kelly Sr. and his wife, the former Margaret Katherine Majer. His paternal grandparents were Irish immigrants, with his grandfather being from County Mayo, Ireland. John Sr. was the son of a farmer; he started his own bricklaying business, "Kelly for Brickwork", and became a multimillionaire.[3] Margaret's parents were Germans who emigrated to the United States. Before her marriage, she was a model and competitive swimmer.[4] She converted from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism to marry Jack Kelly.[3]:6 Kelly's uncle George Kelly was a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright.

Kelly had an older sister Margaret (born September 1925 and nicknamed "Peggy") and two younger sisters, Grace (born November 1929) and Elizabeth Anne (born June 1933 and nicknamed "Lizanne").[3] Kelly's younger sister Grace would go on to become an Academy Award winning film actress who married Rainier III, Prince of Monaco in 1956. Kelly's nephew is Monaco's current monarch Prince Albert II. The children were raised in a 17-room house on Henry Avenue in East Falls, Philadelphia

Kelly served in the United States Navy during World War II. He was stationed in Bainbridge, Maryland. Kelly graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1950 and rowed for the varsity team.[5]

Sports and rowing[edit]

Kelly with father in 1945

Kelly represented the United States at the 1948 Summer Olympics at London, United Kingdom, the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland and the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia in rowing in the single scull (1x). He represented the United States in the double scull (2x) at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. Kelly won a bronze medal at the 1956 Games. He also won gold medals at the 1955 and 1959 Pan American Games[1] and 1949 European Championships.[6]

Kelly at Henley[edit]

Kelly's father John B. Kelly Sr. won two gold medals at the 1920 Summer Olympics, capturing both the single scull (1x) and the double scull (2x). The senior Kelly repeated his victory in the double scull at the 1924 Summer Olympics. In 1920, despite his accomplishments as an rower, the senior Kelly's entry was rejected at the then most prestigious rowing event in the world, the Henley Royal Regatta. According to the minutes of the regatta’s Committee of Management, Kelly was excluded for two reasons: first, because having worked as a bricklayer he was not eligible under the regatta's then rules on amateurism (which excluded anyone "...who is or ever has been … by trade or employment for wages a mechanic, artisan or labourer") and second because he was a member of Vesper Boat Club which was banned in 1906 after members of their 1905 crew raised money through a public subscription to pay for their travel expenses.[7] Kelly's exclusion was widely reported in newspapers in both the UK and US, with many seeing it as an attempt to prevent an American from winning the prestigious Diamond Challenge Sculls event [8] although an American, Edward Ten Eyck, had previously won the event in 1897.

In 1947, Kelly Jr. won the Diamond Challenge Sculls (single scull) at the Henley, the event from which his father had been excluded. In recognition of his accomplishment, Kelly was awarded the 1947 James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States.[9] In 1949 Kelly repeated his feat and again won the Diamond Challenge Sculls at Henley. In 1980, Kelly's sister Princess Grace of Monaco was invited to present the trophies at the Regatta. In 2003, the Princess Grace Challenge Cup named in her honour was first presented. In 2004, Grace's son (and Kelly's nephew) Prince Albert of Monaco presented the trophies at the Regatta.

Kelly at the Olympics[edit]

Kelly (center) in 1960

At the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, Kelly competed on the same Henley course where he had won the Diamond Challenge Sculls the year before. Kelly won his opening heat, but did not make the finals after finishing second to eventual Silver Medalist Eduardo Risso in the semi-finals. (Due to course width constrictions, the Henley course could only handle a 3 boat final).

At the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Kelly again won his opening heat. In the semi-final, which was one to qualify, Kelly finished second to eventual champion Yury Tyukalov, and Kelly was relegated to the repechage, or second-chance race, which was also one to qualify for the final. In the repechage, Kelly's main competitor was Teodor Kocerka of Poland. They fought all the way down the course with Kocerka, who would go on to win the Bronze medal, prevailing in a close finish.[1]

At the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Kelly won his Olympic medal, a bronze. He was beaten by two teenage prodigies, Vyacheslav Ivanov of Russia and Stuart MacKenzie of Australia, but Kelly beat Teodor Kocerka, who had beaten Kelly four years earlier.[1] Kelly gave the medal to his sister Grace, who married Prince Rainier earlier that year, as a wedding present. He would later quip that he had hoped it would have been a different color.

In 1960, Kelly competed in the double scull at his final Olympics in Rome. His boat would be eliminated in the repechage.[1]

Later career in sports[edit]

In 1964, following his retirement from rowing, Kelly acted as manager for the United States Olympic 8-man boat. It was composed of rowers from the Vesper Boat Club, to which Kelly also belonged. That boat won a Gold Medal at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. In 1968, Kelly served as a member of the national committee for the Modern pentathlon.

Kelly became a passionate advocate for the athletes. He was elected president of the Amateur Athletic Union[1] in 1970 and stirred controversy by arguing that the amateur code had become outmoded thereby helping free the Olympics from sham amateurism.

In 1974, Kelly headed a group of Philadelphia business men who became owners of the Philadelphia Bell a franchise in the now defunct World Football League. Kelly's name and connection were important in giving the franchise legitimacy and in negotiating agreements with the city of Philadelphia. However, as the first season progressed, Kelly stepped aside as the team president in favor of John Bosacco who owned a controlling interest in the franchise.

In 1985, Kelly was elected president of the United States Olympic Committee.[1] The appointment was short-lived – Kelly died three weeks later.[10] Kelly was posthumously inducted into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame as a contributor. Kelly and his father are the only parent-child duo in the Olympic Hall of Fame.

Business and professional life[edit]

Kelly was a respected businessperson as owner of "Kelly for Brickwork", a company started by his father, John B. Kelly Sr. Kelly was actively involved in politics and served for 12 years as City Councilman-At-Large in Philadelphia (D). Kelly also served on the Fairmount Park Commission.

For many years, Kelly played the role of George Washington in the annual Christmas Day re-enactment of the famous 1776 crossing of the Delaware River. The re-enactors would cross over from Pennsylvania to New Jersey on Christmas afternoon.[11]

Personal life[edit]

Kelly's first wife was Mary Gray Freeman (now known as Mary Spitzer), the 1951 national women's champion in swimming and a member of the United States swimming team destined for the 1952 Olympics at Helsinki (She appeared on the cover of Life magazine on July 23, 1951). They married in 1954[2] and had six children, including John B. Kelly III, Susan von Medicus, and Elizabeth "Liz" Kelly.[12][13] After Kelly and his wife separated in 1969, Jack was well known as a man-about-town and dated a plethora of head-turners (among them Rachel Harlow), had parties of Who's Whos at his apartment in The Plaza. He served as Philadelphia City Councilman-at-Large from 1967-1979. Kelly and Freeman finally divorced in 1980.[13]

Following his divorce, Kelly married Sandra Worley, a banker, on May 28, 1981. They remained married until Kelly's death in 1985.[13][14]


On the morning of March 2, 1985, Kelly suffered a fatal heart attack while jogging to The Athletic Club in Philadelphia after his customary morning row on the Schuylkill River.[13] His body was discovered on 18th and Callowhill Street shortly after 9:30 am. Kelly was taken to Hahnemann University Hospital where he was pronounced dead.[9]

Jack Kelly Jr.'s private funeral was held in Philadelphia. Among the attendees were his brother-in-law Rainier III, Prince of Monaco, his nieces Princess Caroline and Princess Stéphanie, his nephew Albert II, Prince of Monaco, then Philadelphia mayor Wilson Goode and former Philadelphia mayors William J. Green, III and Frank Rizzo. John Kelly Jr. is buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Cheltenham Township, Pennsylvania.[15]

Achievements and awards[edit]

  • Diamond Scull, Henley Royal Regatta, 1947 and 1949
  • James E. Sullivan Award Winner 1947
  • Member US Olympic team 1948, 1952, 1956 and 1960
  • 8-time United States National Champion, single scull
  • Member US rowing Hall of Fame, elected 1956
  • Manager for the 1964 Olympic Gold Medal eight man boat
  • President of the United States Olympic Committee.
  • United States Olympic Hall of Fame, as a contributor
  • Olympic Order in Silver[1]
  • City Councilman (Democrat-Philadelphia)


  • Kelly Drive, Philadelphia, formerly East River Drive, was renamed in his honor after his death. Boathouse Row is located here.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Jack Kelly, Jr.
  2. ^ a b "Mary Freeman Spitzer". Retrieved 15 February 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c Taraborrelli, J. Randy (2003). Once Upon a Time: Behind the Fairy Tale of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier. Warner Books. pp. 3–4. ISBN 0-446-53164-2. 
  4. ^ Jacobs, Laura (May 2010). "Grace Kelly's Forever Look". Retrieved May 31, 2014. 
  5. ^ "Penn Biographies: John Brenden Kelly Jr. (1927–1985)". 
  6. ^ Rudern - Europameisterschaften (Herren - Einer).
  7. ^ New York Times, June 25, 1906
  8. ^ Burnell, Richard (1989). Henley Royal Regatta: A celebration of 150 years. William Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-98134-6. 
  9. ^ a b "Kelly's death leaves friends in sorrow". Park City Daily News. March 4, 1985. p. 9. Retrieved May 31, 2014. 
  10. ^ Leigh, Wendy (2008). True Grace: The Life and Times of an American Princess. Macmillan. p. 220. ISBN 0-312-38194-8. 
  11. ^ "Washington Crossing Historic Park Timeline". Archived from the original on August 4, 2013. Retrieved May 31, 2014. 
  12. ^ Taraborrelli 2003 p.340
  13. ^ a b c d "Philadelphia mourns Jack Kelly; dies while jogging". Gettysburg Times. March 4, 1985. p. 5. Retrieved May 31, 2014. 
  14. ^ Goldpaper, Sam (March 4, 1985). "John B. Kelly Jr. Dead at 57; Olympic Committee Leader". New York Times. Retrieved May 31, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Private Services Conducted For Kelly, U.S. Olympic Chief". March 9, 1985. Retrieved May 31, 2014. 

External links[edit]