Tony Kelly was born in Rock Island, Illinois, son of illustrator James Kelly of Davenport, Ia., and Angela Searle Kelly of Rock Island, Ill. The family moved when he was very young to New York City where his father was a highly sought-after illustrator. Tony attended the small, progressive school, Walt Whitman, McBurney High School and, later, 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 Kelly became a lifelong friend of the Mayor’s son. Several of Mr. Kelly’s beloved literary works include his childhood experiences accompanying Mayor LaGuardia.
Boats of any size were always a great romance to Mr. Kelly. 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 maintained a catamaran on City Island and would carry it atop his car to put in at any watery spot: The East River, the Hudson, the Mississippi, the Rock River or Lake Michigan. One of his greatest maritime adventures was a year spent (working) as a Merchant Marine, traveling between New York City and Rio de Janeiro.
In the mid-1950s, Mr. Kelly 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. Mr. Searle was in the first graduating class at Northwestern University and delivered the commencement speech on “The Philosophy of Civil Liberties” (an important theme in Mr. Kelly’s life). Mr. 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, Ill.
Beginning as a reporter for the Davenport Times, Mr. Kelly soon developed a passion for photography that propelled him into a career shooting for an extensive list of Fortune 500 corporations, including McDonald’s, John Deere and General Electric. His photojournalism credits include Life, Paris Match, The New York Times, Ebony, and the Chicago Tribune. By the late 1980s he retired from photography and taught and lectured at Northwestern University’s 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. His 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. Mr. Kelly took over a fledgling local Evanston newspaper, The Clarion, where he not only reported, wrote, photographed and illustrated articles, but also helped launch several other people’s careers in journalism
One of Mr. Kelly’s deepest concerns was justice reform. He wrote extensively on the immorality of the criminal justice system, “Incentive for Injustice” and other causes, which appear on his blog www. tonykellyjournalism.wordpress.com
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.
When Mr. Kelly 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.
He 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.
Mr. Kelly spent much time at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, on the Arts Council, attending performances and jogging around Noyes field. He 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 Mr. Kelly and can be made at actorsgymnasium.org.
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When founder of Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson, spoke at Evanston Township High School, Mr. Kelly heard his own deep passion for justice reform echoed. Help sustain his dream for justice reform at www. eji.org
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Memorial service information will soon be posted at www.tonykelly.com
Cards for the family may be sent to
C. Kelly, 823 Colfax, Evanston, IL.60201