Behind every major sports event there is an army of unseen people who make it happen and, in the case of the most enduring events, they are people who do their jobs well without seeking the limelight.  Many events come and go because they aren’t able to fill critical roles with such people.  One of the most notable sports events in Connecticut is Manchester’s annual Thanksgiving Day five mile road race, an event that has endured for more than 80 years and has grown to premier stature in the international cross country community.  If ever an event was about people, it is this race.

It’s about the people of a community that has pride in itself and in it’s event, a cast of movers and shakers that has changed several times as it spanned the 20th century into the 21st, local citizens, volunteers all, who go about their every day lives every day, donating the majority of their free time to the event that annually shines a favorable light on all of them, annually bringing out that small town character of the “City of Village Charm”.

One of the people who best personified that local pride and made the “Turkey Day Five Miler” run seamlessly each year without stepping into the spotlight was Ed Kelly, Dr. Edward Kelly III, a registered pharmacist and former department chair of Pharmacy Practice at UCONN, where he taught for 28 years.  Most of all Ed Kelly was a community guy, who represented the best of Manchester, as a coach of the Manchester Soccer Club, president of the Martin School PTA, and chairman of the St. James School board.

I know Ed best as the man who annually was in charge of the press room for the Manchester Road Race.  It is not a one day a year job.  It would be hard to imagine that a day went by that Ed wasn’t involved in road race business, whether it be fielding calls from media types like myself, discussing logistics with other committee members or just finding himself cornered to discuss the progress toward the next race while at an unrelated event.

It was on the day itself that Ed always distinguished himself.  The operation of the press room is, to say the least, an Herculean task of creating order in an atmosphere of bedlam, fielding media requests, making sure everyone who needed one had a pass to ride the press truck without overloading it, insuring that all pre and post race interviews were arranged and each member of the media was properly equipped with race information and bios of the elite runners.  In a room crammed with those elite runners, preparing to take their positions at the head of a pack of 15,000 or more, it fell on Ed to keep order through the arrival of dignitaries from the mayor to local legislators to even, the governor and United States congressional representatives.

Ed Kelly did it all with an amazing grace, always smiling, never frazzled, easily fulfilling every request, never displaying the arrogant manner that too frequently permeates the ranks of public relations people.  The cheerful greeting from Ed Kelly on Thanksgiving morning was like the official introduction to the holiday season.  I know Thanksgiving will never be the same without that greeting.

Ed Kelly passed away on Tuesday, a mere three weeks before the next running of his beloved race.  It will never be the same without him.  I’m only glad it doesn’t fall on me to succeed him.  His are, indeed, big shoes to fill.

Approaching a much emptier Thanksgiving in the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.


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