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Respected editor passes away at 60

By Staff | Jun 30, 2010

Bob Kelly

Bob Kelly, managing editor of the Charleston Daily Mail and son of the late Adam Kelly (TSN Editor Emeritus), died Monday following a short illness. He was 60 years old.

Kelly was recooperating in a rehabilitation center following a two-week stay in a hospital in Parkersburg, when he went into cardiac arrest at around 3 p.m. Monday afternoon.

A Sistersville native, Kelly was born to be a journalist. After graduating from the West Virginia University Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism, he began his career at the Daily Mail in 1974 as a Statehouse reporter. Kelly was city editor and managing editor before he left the state to pursue an editing position with the Orlando Sentinel in Florida in 1984.

Kelly returned to West Virginia in 1988 and served as the editor of The Intelligencer in Wheeling. Ten years later, he moved to Parkersburg as editor of the Parkersburg News. He rejoined the Daily Mail in 2001, first as political editor and then as managing editor.

Self-effacing when it came to his own work – Kelly often referred to his columns jokingly as “drivel” – he encouraged writers to improve their craft, persistently so.

Reporters were reminded to collect descriptive information and details such as ages – he was a stickler about that. (Kelly was 60. He would want that noted.)

Said Daily Mail Editor and Publisher Nanya Friend, “I often asked him to edit my own work. I knew he would be ruthless and it might hurt my pride a little bit, but the results would be a better piece.”

Friend came to the paper as a rookie reporter in 1977 and recalls looking up to Kelly, then on the Statehouse beat.

“Much of what I know about the news business – about reporting, about writing, even about how to conduct myself as a journalist – I learned from Bob.”

“When it came to writing, he was a perfectionist. He agonized over his own stories and columns and never seemed happy with the results, which were consistently excellent.”

Journalism was in Kelly’s blood. He was the son of well-known newspaper editor and columnist Adam Kelly, the former editor and publisher of the Tyler Star News and a longtime columnist for the Ogden newspaper chain. Adam Kelly died in 1990 and the West Virginia Press Association later named an award after him.

“When you’re working with West Virginia journalists, certainly Bob Kelly comes from good stock. The premier journalism award for the West Virginia Press Association is named for his father,” said Andy Kniceley, current president of the press association and publisher of the Fairmont Times West Virginian. “And he more than lived up to the standards that his dad set.

“I’m just so saddened because he is such a great guy,” Kniceley added.

Gov. Joe Manchin called Kelly “a beautiful person and a great friend. We had the best relationship.”

The governor called it “horrible news” to lose Kelly and Sen. Robert Byrd on the same day.

“It is really tough,” he said.

As a journalist, Kelly was always respectful and could be trusted to be accurate, he said.

“It was what it was,” Manchin said. “I could count on Bob to do a bang-up job.”

The governor said he and the first lady send their condolences to Kelly’s family and friends.

He said he is also sad for readers who could always depend upon Kelly to report every story with accuracy.

“We could count on Bob Kelly to do that,” Manchin said. “He will be truly missed by all.”

Former Gov. Arch Moore said Kelly’s death means West Virginia has lost “a great, great guy. I have always had great respect for him as a journalist, and I felt that way about his father as well.”

Bill Childress, a retired executive director of the press association, noted that Kelly “faithfully followed the example set by his father. Bob’s impact on the craft of journalism will last for decades.”

Former co-workers recalled Kelly as a friend and role model.

“Everyone has great memories of Bob Kelly, said David Greenfield, a former Daily Mail editor and publisher who first worked with Kelly as a reporter. “He was the most dogged and dedicated reporter I have ever seen. But what stood out the most was his astounding ability to get people to talk to him.

“I once overheard him do a phone interview after a coal mine disaster, and it was a lesson in how to be patient, persistent and humane all at the same time. He showed me that reporting wasn’t just about busting someone in the chops. It was about listening.”

Locally, Sharon Lyn Stackpole, a Tyler County resident and former co-worker shared her thoughts on Kelly’s passing. “The irony is not lost on me that West Virginia lost two of its greatest treasures on Monday, June 28, 2010, with the passing of not only U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd, but also our much-loved and admired editor and newspaperman, Bob Kelly. As an editor his skills were impeccable; he was a human bulldozer, relentless and thorough. As a writer his prowess will ever remain unequaled, and yet, he managed to guide us, very skillfully, in such a way that the writer felt neither harshly criticized nor unduly chastened. He taught us by example, which very often is the hardest way to teach, but the best way from which to learn.”

She continued, “I grew up reading the Country Editor columns written by Adam Kelly, Bob’s father, and it was my great privilege and honor to work for Bob, himself, at the Wheeling Intelligencer after college. He was the kind of person that, having left the room, the world seems that much the darker for the light he took with him when he went. Because of Bob Kelly, all around the country today the countless many, many writers that he guided, mentored, advised and “toughened up” along the way are now resolving to make their own light shine just a little brighter in the world. Because this is the kind of world Bob Kelly wanted this to be – honest, straightforward, direct and with a lede of fifteen words or less. And I am so deeply humbled and grateful to have been at least a small part of it.”

Sam Hindman, also a former Daily Mail publisher, executive editor and city editor, said Kelly excelled at whatever his newsroom job was.

“Bob was an excellent writer, tremendous idea man and a strong developer of talent, young and old. He understood what made a good, strong newspaper and went about helping to construct it.”

Ogden Nutting, publisher of The Intelligencer in Wheeling, recalled Kelly as “as special friend, a valued associate, a thoughtful editor, and a respected civic leader, but the description I am sure he would prefer is simply a newspaper man – and he certainly was a good one.”

Daily Mail publisher Friend said she was thrilled when she persuaded Kelly to return to the Daily Mail in 2001.

“With the rest of the staff, we have had a grand time putting out the best newspaper we know how to do.

“I’ve lost my right arm.”

Kelly is survived by his wife, Kathryn; his daughter, Abby, a student in the West Virginia University School of Nursing; his mother, Shannon, who resides in Sistersville; sisters, Laura Young of Scott Depot and Katie Chaplin of Charlotte, N.C., and her husband, John; nieces and nephews, Jessica Young and Adam Young of Scott Depot, Matthew Chaplin of Fuquay-Varina, N.C., and Kelly Chaplin Chan of Atlanta, Ga.; grand nieces, Zoey and Kate Chaplin of Fuquay-Varina; uncle, Bill Kelly and his wife, Gail, of Frederick, Md.

Editor’s note: This story includes information from staff reports, courtesty of the Charleston Daily Mail.