Joseph B. Kelly

  • Joe Kelly
Joe Kelly (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
November 27, 2012|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Joseph B. Kelly, the dean of Maryland turf writers and nationally known thoroughbred historian who also had been the longtime racing editor of the old Washington Star, died Monday of cancer at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium.

The Charles Village resident was 94.

"Joe was a walking encyclopedia on the history of the Maryland horse racing industry. He was the embodiment of the Selima Room, the Woodward Collection and the Bel Air Museum and Stable all wrapped up into one," said Ross Peddicord, former Baltimore Sun racing writer who is executive director of the Maryland Horse Industry Board.

"I sure hope he cataloged a lot of his research, writings and materials and that they will be accessible. He covered racing when there were half-mile tracks at Havre de Grace, Bel Air, Upper Marlboro, Hagerstown and Cumberland and witnessed many of the great horse races from Citation to Secretariat to I'll Have Another," said Mr. Peddicord.

Mike Gathagan, vice president of communications for the Maryland Jockey Club, said the response to the news of Mr. Kelly's death has been overwhelming. "I've heard from racing writers across the country who said it won't be the same without Joe because he was such a fixture in racing," he said. "He was the greatest."

Cricket Goodall, executive director of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, met Mr. Kelly nearly 30 years ago when they both worked on the Maryland Million. "He loved racing. He loved Pimlico, and he had so many stories to tell. Joe had the ability to be down-to-earth and everyone knew how much he liked racing," said Ms. Goodall.

Vinnie Perrone, former Washington Post racing reporter who is now an author, said, "Like a great thoroughbred, Joe Kelly had speed, class and a great heart."

The son of a civilian Navy Department employee and a homemaker, Joseph Bernard Kelly was born in Baltimore and raised on Poultney Street in Federal Hill.

Mr. Kelly attended Holy Cross School and Loyola High School. In 1935, he was a member of Loyola's first graduating class after its move from Mount Vernon to Blakefield. He matriculated at Loyola College, where he edited The Greyhound, the school's newspaper, and earned a bachelor's degree in 1939.

He worked for several years at the city's old Department of Public Welfare, where he met his future wife, M. Stewart Monaghan, whom he married in 1949.

Mr. Kelly began his career in 1943 in the sports department of The Sun, where he covered general sports for three years before joining the racing beat.

Snowden Carter, who covered racing for The Evening Sun, later became the editor of The Maryland Horse Magazine.

Mr. Kelly won the Humphrey S. Finney Award presented by the Maryland Racing Writers in 1993, and in the program Mr. Carter wrote that his lifelong friend was "always a $2 bettor who enjoys the fraternity of horseplayers."

On Oct. 30, 1947, Mr. Kelly and his newsroom colleague, Jim McManus, later ABC's Jim McKay, made local broadcasting history when they appeared on the first program televised by a Baltimore TV station. In the afternoon, the reporters covered live the fifth and sixth races from Pimlico Race Track for WMAR-TV, then owned by The Sunpapers.

"I wasn't fazed at all or the least bit nervous because TV then didn't have the impact that it does today," said Mr. Kelly, who described the broadcast as somewhat "primitive" 50 years later in a 1997 interview with The Sun.

He returned to the airwaves in 1948, when he was present at the first televised Preakness.

"I recall riding an escalator in Hutzler's department store after the first broadcast and a lady shouting, 'I saw you on TV,'" Mr. Kelly said in the 1997 article.

Citation won the Preakness that year and remained Mr. Kelly's all-time favorite horse, and was a member of what he called the exclusive "Big Three Club" that included such equine legends as Man O'War and Secretariat.

"Citation is still my favorite horse," he told The Sun in a 1998 interview. "Citation was such a versatile horse that could overcome muddy tracks or fast tracks, short races or long races," he told The Sun in a 1998 interview. "He could adapt to any and all circumstances."

Mr. Kelly left The Sun in 1951 when he joined the Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association, where he was secretary of its Maryland Charles Town/Delaware division, and four years later joined The Washington Star where he wrote a column, "At the Races," and was racing editor.

When the paper folded in 1981, John D. Shapiro asked Mr. Kelly to become Laurel Race Course's media director, a position he held until 1984 when Frank De Francis bought out Mr. Shapiro.

Mr. Kelly explained in the 1993 Maryland Racing Writers program that he had no intention of retiring, even though the Social Security checks were regularly arriving at his longtime Guilford Avenue home.

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