Ed Kelly, 'Mr. Northeast,' 86

Posted: August 23, 2012

ROOSEVELT BOULEVARD was a dirt road when Ed Kelly was born. It ended at Holme Avenue. Horses dragged wagons delivering milk and produce.

That was the Northeast in the 1920s. It was, of course, transformed dramatically over the decades since, and Ed Kelly was there to lend a positive cast to the transformation.

In fact, there are those who called him "Mr. Northeast."

As a leader of the Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, he strove to make the expansion of the region work for its inhabitants. He organized social and music programs in the schools, started a music festival and scholarship program, led parades and generally lent his personality and energy to the improvement of the community.

Although dinner with Fidel Castro probably had not been on his agenda, he and a group of business and civic leaders dined with the Cuban dictator in 1979 when they traveled to the island to discuss business opportunities.

Ed was to be inducted into the Northeast Philadelphia Hall of Fame in October, and the honor will be bestowed posthumously. Ed died Monday at age 86 after a series of strokes.

Edward T. Kelly was born in Philadelphia to Thomas and Alma Kelly. His father died when Ed was 13. He graduated from the Muriel Dobbins Vocational-Technical High School in 1944 and was drafted into the Army Air Corps. He wound up on occupation duty in the Philippines as an aerial photographer.

After his discharge, he opened an automotive and towing business at Summerdale and Cottman avenues. About that time, he married Jane Collins, and they set up housekeeping on Borbeck Avenue and raised seven children.

His engaging smile and rugged good looks (some said he looked like the actor James Garner) helped him win friends and influence movers and shakers to get things done for the Northeast.

He became executive director of the Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and moved its headquarters from Frankford to the Roosevelt Boulevard in the rapidly expanding Great Northeast.

"As the Northeast grew, so did Ed's responsibilities," his family said. "But he was more than up to the challenge."

Ed parlayed his love of music to promote music programs in the schools, and in 1977 he co-founded the Pennypack Park Music Festival. With the help of then-Mayor Frank Rizzo and City Councilwoman Joan Krajewski, he secured $58,000 in city money to establish summer concerts that featured such prominent bands as those of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, and the Ferko and Greater Kensington string bands.

The series lagged in the '90s, but a group of local residents persuaded Ed and the Fairmount Park Commission to re-establish the event in 2001. This led to a scholarship program for students interested in pursuing a degree in music. In July 2011, the renovated band shell and stage were named in Ed's honor.

Last November, Ed was named grand marshal of the Mayfair Civic Association's annual Thanksgiving Parade and Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony. He and his wife celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary that year.

Besides his wife, he is survived by five daughters, Kathleen Ott, Marita Kelly, Nancy Moessner, Pat Peightal and Julie Weick; two sons, Michael and Ted; 13 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Services: Funeral Mass 10:30 a.m. Friday at Resurrection of Our Lord Church, 2000 Shelmire Ave. Friends may call at 8 a.m. Burial will be in St. Dominic Cemetery.

Contact John F. Morrison at morrisj@phillynews.com or 215-854-5573.

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