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Siena's Kelly loved talking history

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Siena's Kelly loved talking history


One of the best things about being a journalist is that from time to time you get to talk to some pretty intelligent and interesting people.

While talking to celebrities is usually quite fun, my favorite group over the past 20 years has been history professors. I don't want to start naming names because I'll leave somebody out, but I have to mention what a pleasure it was to have a good, long chat with Siena College's Tom Kelly (even if it was only on the phone). Kelly, who passed away earlier this week, taught history at Siena from 1963 to 2000, which means that technically he was a former professor by the time I got to know him a little bit.

But he never stopped teaching. He wrote books and gave history tours, many at Vale Cemetery in Schenectady, and he was always happy to engage in conversation on any subject, although the Civil War and World War II were his two favorite topics.

I interviewed him as an expert on history a handful of times, and in 2011 on the 75th anniversary of the publication of Walter Edmonds' "Drums Along the Mohawk," we talked about the impact of the book, and how Kelly felt it was a better read than Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind." While Mitchell's historical novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937 - she and Edmonds were among six authors in the running for the award - Kelly told me, "If I had to be somewhere and had to take just two of those books, I'm taking 'Drums Along the Mohawk.'"

The "Drums" retrospective was probably my favorite Tom Kelly collaboration, but I also talked to him for stories on the Irish Brigade for a talk he gave at the Irish-American Heritage Museum in Albany, as well as for a story on presidential visits to the Capital Region. There were others, and each encounter was a pleasure. He was always welcoming and willing to share his considerable knowledge on a vast number of subjects.

A Schenectady resident, Kelly grew up in Port Henry, got a history degree from Iona College and a master's from Fordham University.  He served in the U.S. Army in Korea in 1952 and 1953, and got his first teaching job at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains.

He and his wife, Dorothy, had six kids who presented them with 17 grandchildren. I have to guess that when it comes to the category of "greatest grandfathers," Tom Kelly was near the top of the list. He will be sorely missed.