updated August 23, 2011
courtesy of Boston University
Amby Burfoot introduced me to John J. Kelley at a RW booth, I believe, at either the New York or Boston Marathons. It was early on
in Rodale’s ownership of Runner’s World. After meeting Kelley I just remember noting how humble John J. Kelley was-this guy had won Boston!
I knew about John J. Kelley. He was the first American Boston Marathon winner of the modern era, winning in 1957. It was not until Amby Burfoot, who was coached and advised by John J. Kelley, who won in 1968, that a second American won Boston in that era, and it would not be again until 1975, when Bill Rodgers (called Will Rodgers in newspaper reports of the time) put his American feet up on the victory stands.
John J. Kelley was, a paradigm changer. He rejected much of post war modern America, and encouraged those around him to question authority, and embrace the independent thinkers. Amby described meetings in Kelley’s home, with writers, songwriters, thinkers, and young distance runners like Amby, trying to figure out the world he was inheriting. As singer John Prine would say, “it’s a big old, goofy world”, Kelley always seemed to see the humor in a situation.
Kelley was a runner, coach, advisor, friend, philospher, literary enthusiast, father, husband, so many things. What is fascinating to me is how many facets of John J. Kelley that Amby got to see. Burfoot’s column is a homage to a man who obviously changed his life and the lives around him. So, in the end, John J. Kelley, the first modern American road runner, was, perhaps a mixture of New England indepdence and zen master. A true individual.
Amby and I ran together a few times over my two years at the Rodale offices. I remember his stories and John was one of his focal points. When I read his moving history of John J. Kelley, I learnt things about Mr. Kelley that I did not know. More than obituary, it was a celebration of Kelley life.
Please read Amby’s column and pass it around. Amby calls John J. Kelley our first modern road runner. I liked that. I hope you will too! Then, go do your run or walk and consider a life well lived, and well loved.
Amby Burfoot’s tribute to John J. Kelley:
Let’s Run on John J. Kelley:
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