Folks who read this Blog always marvel at my memory of the people I write about. Well guess what? Even though today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant played an integral role in perhaps the single most important moment of my life, I don’t remember a second of it. On June 14, 1954 in the delivery room of the old Amsterdam City Hospital on Guy Park Avenue, Dr. Edwin Kelly brought me into this World, deftly performing the umbilical chord cut and tie off that would give me a trademark “Kelly Belly” for the rest of my life.
Instead, my first memory of this man was not until perhaps four years later and it was the gentle touch of his fingers feeling for nodes on both sides of my neck that I remember well. He always spoke to me in a soft soothing voice and I remember when he gave me one of those damn shots, he would always do so with an “I’m sorry this hurts” sort of look in his kind twinkling eyes. I screamed anyway but never in anger at him because he would always seem to be as relieved as I was that the painful part was over.
My final memory of Dr. Kelly was of going to see him in his very cool new office in a building that used to serve as the city Fire Chief’s home. It was located in a park-like plot of property alongside Amsterdam’s old main Fire House, about where West Main Street became East Main Street. Those gentle hands, those kind eyes, that classic old office remain the almost Rockwell-esque visual that still pops inside my head when I hear the phrase, “family doctor.”
But since I was just twelve-years-old the last time my Mom took me to see Dr. Kelly, there was an awful lot about his remarkable life I did not know about. Fortunately, Dr. Kelly’s second oldest son, Tim Kelly happens to be a regular reader of this blog and I sent him a message asking him to help me fill in details about his Dad’s life. What Tim sent me as a response was so well written and so compelling that I had to ask him if I could share it verbatim with all readers of this blog. Fortunately he agreed and so without further adieu:
My father was born Edwin Brennan Kelly on April 12, 1904, in Amsterdam. His father, Thomas Kelly, was born in Amsterdam in 1863, and his mother, Margaret Brennan, was born in St. Johnsville, NY, in 1870. Though Thomas “Big Tom” Kelly was listed in the old City Directories of the 1880s and 1890s as being a “tinsmith”, he was actually a professional gambler, well known for being a dealer in the card game known as “faro”. He ran gambling rooms at different locations around the city at different times in his life, including one that was on the second or third floor of a building on East Main Street, across the street from the old bus station.I have his old faro table and there are cousins who have other artifacts such as some old one-armed bandits and a beautiful roulette wheel.
Margaret Brennan came from a family of ten and moved to Amsterdam in the early 1880s with 7 or 8 of her siblings to a home at 49 Reid Street. The City Directories of the 1890s list her as a “weaver”. She and Thomas Kelly married on December 27, 1899. Between 1900 and 1908 they had 4 sons: John, Thomas, Edwin and Joseph. The boys all attended St. Mary’s School, which was just a short walk from their home at 22 Liberty Street.
Like his older brothers before him, Edwin quit school at about age 16 to help support the family. He moved to Cleveland, Ohio for several years to live with his Irish relatives while he worked in the steel mills that lined the Cuyahoga River. Decades later, that river became famous for being so polluted by industrial waste that it actually caught fire. His experiences at the factories in Cleveland were life-altering and made him determined to complete his high school education and seek another type of profession. So he returned to Amsterdam and thanks to the kind assistance from the sisters at St. Mary’s School, he completed his junior and senior years in a single year, graduating in 1928 at the age of 24.
He then attended Union College, graduating in 1932, followed by 4 years at Albany Medical School. Although I don’t know how, when or where they met, I imagine it might have been during his Union College years that he met the much younger Evelyn Mattei (born December 1912), who hailed from Cleveland Ave on the South Side. She was the daughter of an Italian immigrant father and a Polish immigrant mother. I don’t imagine that the staunchly Irish “Big Tom” Kelly approved of the match because, although he had agreed to pay for Edwin’s education at Albany Medical School, he did so with the understanding that Edwin would not get married. Edwin agreed.
Nonetheless, on August 18, 1932, they were secretly married at the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel by Rev. John Reidy. Edwin was living in Albany at the time and Evelyn remained with her parents on Cleveland Ave. However, the secret proved too big to keep and, somehow, “Big Tom” disovered the truth and, true to his word, withdrew all financial support for Edwin’s education. Thanks to a loan from his older brother John, he was able to finish medical school and begin his practice around 1937, in an apartment the family lived in on East Main Street, across the street from St. Mary’s Church, above where Johnny’s Seafood restaurant would one day be located.
Between 1935 and 1954 they had ten children: Ann, Kathleen (Pat), Mary, Corinne (Teenie), Michael, Elizabeth (Betsy), Alice, Timothy, Christine and Thomas. Ann died earlier this year, Pat died of cancer in 2003 and Tommy died in a car accident in 1974. There are a total of 25 grandkids and about another 25 great grandkids. Amazingly, although Edwin and Evelyn lived their entire lives in Amsterdam and all ten of their children grew up and graduated from high school in Amsterdam, not a single one of the ten children lives within 150 miles of their hometown.
My father was the stereotypical old-fashioned family doctor…
The rest of Dr.Kelly’s birthday post will be published in the second editionof A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam NY Birthdays, which will be available for sale right after Thanksgiving. To make sure you get your hands on one of the first copies, join my mailing list here.
The first edition of A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam NY Birthdays, which features my birthday posts for 320 current or former Amsterdam residents, is currently being sold at Liberty Fresh Market, on Route 30 in Amsterdam. You can also purchase it online here.
Thank you Tim Kelly.
This former Lyons Street business proprietor was also born on April 12.