Tony Kelly

Tony Kelly was born in Rock Island, Illinois, son of illustrator James Kelly of Davenport, Iowa, and Angela Searle Kelly of Rock Island, Ill. The family moved when he was very young to New York City where his father worked as an illustrator. Tony attended the small, progressive school, Walt Whitman, McBurney High School and American University in Washington, D.C. His family lived in an apartment in New York City across from Gracie Mansion whose resident Mayor was Fiorello LaGuardia. Tony became a lifelong friend of the Mayor’s son Eric and more recently, Eric’s daughter Katherine. Several of Tony’s beloved literary works included his childhood experiences accompanying Mayor LaGuardia.

Boats of any size were always a great romance to Tony. In high school he did an extensive report on Hell’s Gate, the passageway between the East River and the Long Island Sound. As a young man, he outfitted a canoe with an outrigger and kept it on City Island and would carry atop his car to put in at any watery spot: East River, Hudson River, Mississippi, Rock River or Lake Michigan. One of his greatest maritime adventures was a year spent working as a Merchant Marine, travelling between New York City and Rio de Janeiro.

In the mid 1950s Tony returned to the Midwest, married Margaret Mirfield and started a family. Until the 1970s the family lived in the home of his great-grandfather, Elhanen Searle. Searle was in the first graduating class at Northwestern University and delivered the commencement speech, The Philosophy of Civil Liberties (an important theme in Tony’s life). Tony’s grandson, and Elhanen’s great, great grandson, Gustavo Delgado, is presently attending Northwestern.  Searle worked in Abraham Lincoln’s law offices, fought in the Civil War, was one of the founders of the University of Arkansas and finally went on to become a justice on the Arkansas Supreme Court, as well a Judge in Chicago and Rock Island, Il.

Beginning as a reporter for the Davenport Times, Tony’s passion for photography soon emerged and propelled him into a career as a photojournalist and commercial photograher. By the 1970s, most of Tony’s work was based in Chicago and he moved his family to Evanston. During his 45-year career as a photojournalist and commercial photographer he worked for many US corporations, including John Deere, Alcoa, Inland Steel, Bell & Howell, Marcor, US Steel, Jack Daniels, Sears, and General Electric. His photo-journalism credits include Life Magazine, Paris Match, Ebony, Newsweek, Smithsonian Institute, AP, UPI, The Des Moines Register, Editor & Publisher Magazine, The Chicago Journalist and ASMP, USIA, The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, London Times, and Des Moines Register.

By the late 1980s  he retired from photography and taught and lectured at Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism , Columbia College in Chicago, The Rochester Institute of Technology, and American University. He continued to exhibit his work in Chicago and New York. Tony’s Aerial photo of the Fermi Accelerator Laboratory currently hangs in the Smithsonian Institute.

In the 1990s he began pursuing another one of his longstanding interests, journalism and writing. Over the years he wrote vignettes from his life and often illustrated his poems with whimsical line drawings. Tony took over a fledgling local Evanston newspaper The Clarion where he not only reported, wrote, photographed and illustrated articles, but where he also helped launch several other people’s careers in journalism.

One of Tony’s deepest concerns was Justice reform. Tony wrote extensively on the immorality of the criminal justice system, Incentive for Injustice and other causes  which appear on his blog www.

He was a Board Member of Citizen’s Alert, which spearheaded the movement against torture and brutality in the Chicago Police department under Jon Burge. Those concerns were frequently a part of the reportage of The Clarion.

Another of his abiding passions was his family. He was always at the ready to aid and abet the dreams of his children and grandchildren. He delighted in hearing of their adventures and was very proud of the their accomplishments. Just before his passing he was looking forward to the family’s annual Thanksgiving gathering.

Maybe attempting to encompass all of that full, lively life, or maybe because of an Irish gene, Tony loved to tell stories. He  had stories from every lap of his life. They embodied the scope of his vision, funny, ironic, amazing, heroic, those reflecting an era, those reflecting the human condition. It was almost shocking to realize the range of his adventures and interests.

When Tony was a little boy his father wrote a book for him, The What If I Boy, the perfect theme of his life. His interests were broad, his pleasure in life expansive and his plans for what he would like to do next were present through the last moments of his life.

Tony is survived by sons Mike Kelly, Max Kelly, daughter Clare Kelly, sister Cinda Kelly, partner Turid Pedersen, grandchildren Forrest, Nicolas, Mikaylo, Gustavo, and Adelle, and ex-wife Margaret Kelly and niece, Caitlin Graham.

The Arts
Tony spent much time at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, on the Arts Council, attending performances and jogging around Noyes field. Tony delighted in watching kids practice circus arts as part of the Actors’ Gymnasium in Noyes field.  He wished all kids could have access to such inspiring and imaginative activities. Donations for scholarships for low-income youth to the Actors’ Gymnasium would delight Tony and can be made at .
Please indicate TONY KELLY on donation form.

Justice Reform
When founder of Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson, spoke at Evanston Township High School, Tony heard his own deep passion for justice reform echoed. Help sustain Tony’s dream for justice reform at www.

Please indicate TONY KELLY on donation form.

Memorial service information will soon be posted at

Cards for the family may be sent to
C. Kelly, 823 Colfax, Evanston, IL.60201

An essay by Tony Kelly

How would we describe a society that determined justice by putting parties to a criminal dispute, one of whom might be small and weak and one massive and armed, into a ring to fight to determine who was right-

And actually believed that guilt would be determined by who lost?

I believe we would reasonably call that society ignorant and savage.

We cannot believe that the people of these United States need to accept that we are a society so ignorant and savage that we must continue to tolerate this model for our criminal justice system.

Unfortunately the basic flaw in the system runs so deep that until it is addressed all well-meaning corrections are ineffectual.

The flaw is that of a misdirected incentive system.

In our justice system all the incentives are for police to arrest and for prosecutors to convict. Innocence is of very secondary importance.

We, here in the U.S., know how well the incentive system works. We are the world’s experts. Here, it accounts for almost everything that does work.

Its what gets people out to vote, when they do.

It’s what make politicians do the right thing, when they do,

It’s what makes American industry and science the best in the world.

It’s what makes corporate executives and money manipulators steal us blind

It’s what makes police arrest innocent people and withhold evidence.

It’s what makes prosecutors seek conviction regardless of innocence.

In our criminal justice system the prosecutor’s incentive is not only to present evidence but to inflame the jury and incite them, by any possible means, to render a guilty verdict.

Since prosecutors’ reputations and future career will hinge on “winning” cases It is important for them to keep evidence of innocence from the jury.

Prosecution will, of course, be greatly facilitated if the defendant is poor, uneducated, or part of an economic or racial group different than that of the jurors. If he or she is poor they will be unable to afford a qualified and diligent defense attorney. If they are of a different race or class than that of the jurors they maybe targets of unaknowledged prejudice..

We have seen that when these factors come together in a death penalty the procedure can become lynch law in robes and a business suit.

Police officers or prosecutors setting up innocent persons to be murdered by the state is, arguably, society’s single most heinous crime.

The crime of an innocent person being incarcerated by his or her own government is second only to execution as a crime against the people  yet even the most obvious perpetrators are not prosecuted.

Under our present system there are great rewards and incentives for “the state” to perpetrate such crimes and no incentives for prosecution of those responsible. Penalties for prosecutorial “misconduct”, even when it is the equivalent of murder, are almost zero..

That prosecutorial manipulation and deliberate error actually allows real criminals to remain at large is seldom given serious consideration.

Under the circumstances it is understandable that some persons falsely convicted might find it preferable to be killed by The State than to lie in jail, betrayed by their own government, accused of a heinous crime and perhaps presumed guilty by their own friends and family,   (In the 90s there was a rash of  children’s “false memory” convictions for sexual abuse in which innocent people were jailed and lost careers, families and reputations.)

There can never be anything like justice until the incentives of those representing the state are radically changed. Until that happens the criminal “justice” system will remain an immoral, illogical and expensive sham.

Superficial changes in the rules are not going to change this while the basic incentives are all exactly wrong.  The system cannot work until they are replaced.

If the central problem is so clear why is it hardly ever mentioned?

Good God! Condemn the cornerstone of our whole justice system?

Suggest that our distinguished jurists are purposeful or blind supervisors of injustice?

That our law schools lack ethical roots. That they teach students to conform and make money at the expense of justice?

The enormous suffering and injustice caused by the system is compounded by the enormous expense of jailing or killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people at taxpayers’ expense.

At a time of shrinking government budgets the high cost of immorality and ignorance is economically crippling..

To make the needed changes is a big job but it has to be done.

We won’t have a true justice system until all The State’s incentives are for justice.

As citizens of these United States of America we have a right not to be subject to an unjust and immoral criminal justice system. And a duty to change or replace it.