Poignant Day for Kelly Gang


In Irish Abroad

By Tom Deignan

In America, there’s something so special about being born on the Fourth of July that famed jazzman Louis Armstrong is among the famous folk who is said to have lied about joining us that patriotic day.

Esteemed editor and journalist Mike Kelly, who died in April while covering the war in Iraq , probably would have loved to have been born on July 4. But with a name like Mike Kelly, being born on March 17 seemed appropriate as well.

This year, though, St. Patrick,s Day will be a sad one, as Kelly,s family and friends mark the first holiday/birthday without him.

Therefore, Kelly’s Irish pals in New York are doing something to help his family both emotionally and financially. New York’s famous Kelly Gang of writers, cops, pols and more will be hosting a fundraiser for Kelly’s children the evening of March 17 at Michael’s Restaurant on West 55th Street in Manhattan.

Novelist Tom Kelly and New York Post columnist Keith Kelly are among those helping to organize the event, which begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $100.

“All the money will go to pay for the kids’ college tuition,” says Tom Kelly, author of The Rackets and Payback, whose latest book, about the construction of the Empire State Building, will be out later this year.

The Kelly Gang began informally enough about five years ago, Keith Kelly recalls.

“A few Kellys got decent jobs that year,” quips Keith, who pens the ultra-influential Media Ink column in the Post. “Jim Kelly was named editor at Time. Ed Kelly was named president at American Express.”

Throw former-future police commissioner Ray Kelly into the mix and the Kelly Gang became a high profile crew meeting once, twice, then three and four times a year.

St. Patrick’s Day, of course, was a required meeting day.

Journalist Mike Kelly was based in Washington and Boston, more than he was in New York, but he met up with the crew several times and made quite an impression.

“He was a gentleman,” recalled Tom Kelly.

Added Keith Kelly: “One of the great things about him is that he had that great Irish sense of humor and wit. Some of his columns, you just laughed out loud they were so funny. And also he was a great family man.”

It is for all these reasons that Kelly’s friends took his loss so hard.

Upon learning of Kelly’s tragic death, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd , another high-profile name who will attend the March 17 event, was reminded of Pat Moynihan and what he said following the assassination of JFK.

“I don’t think there’s any point being Irish if you don’t know that the world is going to break your heart eventually.”

Mike Kelly was killed when his vehicle swerved off the road while traveling with the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq. He was the first American journalist to die in the war.

Kelly is survived by his wife, Madelyn, and two sons, Tom, 6, and Jack, 3. All three are also expected to be on hand March 17, as are Kelly’s parents.

His Dad Thomas was a reporter for the Washington Daily News while his mother, Marguerite, wrote a syndicated column.

At the time of his death, Kelly, who grew up in Washington D.C. , was the editor-at-large for the Atlantic Monthly and a Washington Post columnist. He previously served as editor of the New Republic and National Journal.

A few year earlier he became editor of The Atlantic and was widely credited with reviving the 150-year old magazine, transforming it from a staid journal into a current events must-read with strong literary leanings.

Mike Kelly met up with the Kelly Gang in 2002 and was planning to attend the St. Patrick’s Day meeting in 2003.

“But he became embedded with the 3rd infantry,” Keith Kelly recalls.

“Mike was on TV with Ted Koppel St. Patrick’s night last year, we all watched him. Three weeks later he was killed.”

In the ensuing months, Keith Kelly added: “Collectively we said we have to do something to show our support, to let these two little boys know there’s a whole group of people here, Kellys and others, who liked and respected Michael.”

There will be singing, piping and Irish step dancing at Michael’s on March 17. All proceeds go to the Tom and Jack Kelly Education Fund. To attend for the Kelly Gang fundraiser, call 212-581-3813.

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