In Memoriam: Joseph A. Kelly, 1941–2024

Joseph Aloysius Kelly passed away on January 23 after a brief battle with acute leukemia. He was 82.

Born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, Joe attended Archmere Academy and went on to the University of Notre Dame, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English Literature. He studied law at Georgetown University for a year before joining the Peace Corps. He proudly shared that he handed his application directly to Sargent Shriver, who was the driving force behind the establishment of the Peace Corps and its first director. Joe often regaled family and friends with stories of his incredible adventures during two years of Peace Corps service as an English teacher in Surin, Thailand, and remained a champion of the organization throughout his life.

Upon returning from Thailand, Joe worked at the Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he met his wife, Patricia Brown, while fighting over a taxicab in the middle of a snowstorm near their building. They married in 1972 and settled in Washington, expanding their family in 1975 with the birth of their beloved daughter, Kate. Together, Joe and Pat lived a Washington life and filled their Spring Valley home with love, laughter and a steady stream of friends and family who were welcomed with open arms and home-cooked meals. A consummate host, Joe relished finding and preparing complicated recipes and ensuring the dinner conversation was always interesting, educational and filled with humor.

Joe’s professional life revolved around the service of others, and he was part of many public health and education programs. While executive vice president of locally based PR firm Vanguard Communications, one of his favorite projects involved a campaign to help destigmatize mental illness for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Among other things, he helped establish an awards ceremony in Hollywood to honor actors, writers and producers who depict mental health struggles in an accurate and respectful way.

Arguably Joe’s most cherished role was raising Kate. Despite a demanding career, he never lost sight of doing the “dad” things and would drive her to school; take care of her when she was sick; teach her how to ice skate, swim and ride a bike; and offer advice and guidance as she pursued her education and her own career.

Joe is survived by the love of his life, Patricia Kelly; daughter, Kate Kelly (Kyle Pope); four grandchildren, Laney, Zack, Josie and Ali; sister, Eleanor Wilson; and other family members. This deeply devoted husband, father, grandfather and friend to many will be remembered for his unending kindness, generosity and an unmatched chicken curry.

A memorial mass to honor the incredible life of Joe Kelly will be held at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, 1315 36th Street, NW, Washington, D.C., at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, March 22, 2024. In lieu of flowers, contributions in Joe’s memory can be made to World Central Kitchen: https://wck.org/donate.