Tom Kelly left us for his spot in heaven on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, after six challenging years. Tom died peacefully in his home with his family at his bedside.
He was a dear friend to many, and it was an honor and privilege to know him. Once you entered his heart it was forever, and he would forever be committed to you. He was a man of his word, a “man’s man” in every essence of the phrase. It has been said that he was one of those people who lit up every room he entered. Those kinds of people are rare, and we all take a little of their light for ourselves. He is now lighting up heaven and someday we will all be with him again. Until then he will remain in our hearts as we retain a little of that still strong light.
Tom lived life to the fullest and was often thought to be a larger-than-life character. Graduating from the first class of Helix High School in San Diego in 1953 as a star running back, he went on to Riverside Junior College, where he continued on his winning streak as they became national football champions. He then enlisted in the Marines to play football at a time when military football was huge. He was stationed in Hawaii before it was a state. His duty, other than football, was to be in charge of the military swimming pool at Pearl Harbor. He gave swimming tests, taught lifesaving techniques and the practice of amphibious landings while in full uniform and gear. In his free time, he surfed.
Tom was blessed his whole life and always seemed to be at the right place at the right time. After discharge, his former MCRD athletic director told Tom that a small Roman Catholic school in its infancy, now known as the University of San Diego, was starting a football program and was aspiring to become the Norte Dame of the West. Together, Tom and his dear friend Joe MacNamara recruited all the players for the first football team at USD in 1956, where he played for five seasons. In addition to being a full-time student, playing football and starting a family, Tom had a job as a San Diego city lifeguard working the beaches of Old Mission Beach and La Jolla.
After graduating from USD, Tom took a job with Kraft Foods, where his charismatic personality accelerated his selling skills. While still in his 20s, he was quickly promoted to sales manager at the main office in Atlanta, Ga., when he sold a full train carload of Miracle Whip to Price Club, which was unheard of in that day and age. Not wanting to leave San Diego, he then reunited with his dear friend and USD football teammate McKenzie “Ken” Cook, who had started Metro U.S. Services dba Rent-It Services. He started in a sales position and quickly was promoted to vice president of sales in a rapidly growing company, which quickly became the largest equipment rental company in the country. After Ken left the company, Dave Cox, another USD teammate (who later became a multi-term California state senator) came aboard. Dave and Tom continued to rapidly expand the company prior to its being sold.
Next, Tom continued his career in advertising and marketing. He managed the marketing for Western Truck and Equipment and also developed a sport-themed nightclub, bar, restaurant and two delicatessens known as Sports Unlimited with another dear friend, Larry Osborne. Tom handled the marketing and advertising. In classic Tom Kelly fashion, he then took a somewhat unexpected turn in life and decided to deep-sea commercial fish for a year, and he had many exhilarating experiences.
In 1976, he and his soon-to-be wife, Pam, moved to Sun Valley, Idaho. After working many jobs including marketing for Scott USA and sales at Aspen Sports, he chose to open his own store in 1991. Naming it Kelly Sports and running it with his wife, they specialized in mountain bike rentals in the summer and ski-related items and apparel in the winter. Along the way, he met many wonderful people who soon became lifelong friends. Tom and Pam were able to enjoy everything the valley had to offer—skiing, hiking, mountain biking, river rafting, tennis and golf. He also enjoyed spring and fall slack time when he and his wife were afforded the opportunity to travel and sail all over the world.
After retiring in 2008, Tom was instrumental in introducing his friend Ken’s company, McKenzie Farms, to Jim Sinegal, the founder of Costco, who was one of Tom’s dearest friends since high school, helping to establish a Christmas tree program for Costco, which is still active today.
In 2012, Tom and his wife moved to Tucson, Ariz., to enjoy sunshine, travel and golf. In his final years he was afflicted with transverse myelitis and was confined to a wheelchair, with his loving wife by his side to care for him.
Tom leaves behind a devoted wife, Pam, of 46 years; daughters, Noralyn and Suzanne, and son, Tom; eight loving grandchildren; five adoring great-grandchildren; and a brother, Ron. He loved them all dearly.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Live Like Kayla Foundation. Empower through hope and education. Excitingly and fittingly, the foundation plans to honor Tom’s memory with the creation of a new scholarship for a deserving Helix High School graduate that will be called The Live Like Kayla Foundation Thomas V. Kelly “Never Give Up” Scholarship. Contact info: 760-405-6366, www. livelikekayla.org.
Plans of burial are at Miramar National Cemetery in San Diego, Calif., and celebration of life to be announced shortly.
We love you, Papa. We miss your smile and positive energy, which gave us all courage and strength. You will forever be in our hearts.