Determination, hard work and family define the late Lee Edward Kelly Sr.
Kelly’s sons speak admiringly of their father’s many virtues. They speak proudly about his early days at the Thomasville Times-Enterprise, when he swept floors, rose to the position of general manager and eventually became majority owner.
Lee Edward “Ed” Kelly Jr. and John David “Jack” Kelly, now 88 and 82, respectively, were at the newspaper helm until the Times-Enterprise was sold to Thomson Reuters in August 1981.
Another brother, the late Daniel Lamar “Danimar” Kelly, headed Kelbro, the mechanical arm of the newspaper, until his retirement upon Thomson Reuter’s purchase.
An older sister, the late Annette Kelly Marks, chose a career other than journalism. She was director of the School of Medical Technology at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.
Not unlike their father, Ed and Jack did it all at the newspaper before Ed rose to the position of editor and publisher and Jack to advertising director.
A self-described “little paper boy,” Ed began selling newspapers on the street when he was 10 or 11.
A recollection of his early days at the paper conjures a mental picture of a scene from a 1940s, black-and-white movie.
The year was 1939, and Germany invaded Poland. The Times-Enterprise printed an extra about the event, and Ed was among those charged with the getting the papers into hands of townspeople.
He gathered his papers at the old newspaper building — today the 117 N. Madison St. site of Ponder’s Products & Printing — took them out on the street and called out, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!”
“I was sort of the go-fer,” Ed said, adding that he delivered papers to Ochlocknee, Meigs, Pelham and Finney General Hospital, a World War II army hospital in Thomasville.
“Danimar and I wanted to buy an airplane to deliver the paper, and Dad would not let us. We were both pilots,” Jack quipped.
Jack also sold papers on the street, in addition to other duties associated with commercial printing the newspaper performed for other publications.
“We did a lot of what they called ‘gathering’ back in that day,” he explained, adding that the activity involved the collection of pages for other publications.
Ed swept floors at the old building. One of his jobs was to sweep up metal shavings around the Linotype machine.
The newspaper went to offset printing in 1971, and the press and computers were moved to the current newspaper location, 106 South St., then-housing for Kelbro Printing Co., with Danimar as president.
Advertising, editorial and circulation remained at the North Madison building. Jane Benton, then-wire editor and later a Times-Enterprise publisher, also made the move from North Madison to Kelbro.
Computers were unheard of when the Kelly brothers’ father bought business manager W.D. Hargrave’s interest in the paper in the 1940s and became the majority owner. E.R. Jerger, the only other stockholder, was editor. Lee Kelly was general manager and advertising manager.
After Jerger died, his daughter, the late Emily Jerger, sold the Jerger newspaper stock to a broker, Bill Matthew, who later “brought forth” the Thomson Reuter purchase, Ed explained.
Ed, Jack and Danimar married and had families: Ed and his wife, Pat, have two children; Jack and wife Janis have four children, nine grandchildren and a great-grandchild; Danimar and his wife, Gwen, had two children.
The old saying that a good woman is behind every successful man is true where his parents were concerned, Jack said. The brothers’ mother, the late Minnie Lee Darley Kelly, helped her husband and worked at the newspaper when needed.
“Everything they did revolved around their family,” Jack recalled.
After a courtship of 11 years, the Kellys married in 1921, the day of the first Thomasville Rose Show. Wedding flowers were from the Rose Show.
The young groom had built a house at 224 Bartow St. in the late teens. He and his bride raised their family there and resided at the house until Mr. Kelly’s death in 1980, at age 86, and her death in 1982, also at 86.
Hired by the Times-Enterprise at age 11 to sweep floors and while carrying out later newspaper duties of backshop employee, Linotype operator, printer, advertising salesman and writer of news stories, Lee Kelly read and studied voraciously. His formal education ended at seventh grade.
Majority ownership of the newspaper was fun, but it also was a big responsibility, the Kelly brothers agreed.
“We felt a responsibility to the community. We all did,” Jack explained.
Recognizing the need for a new Thomasville High School football stadium, Lee Kelly began a fund drive in the late 1940s to establish a facility to replace a Fletcher Street stadium. Kelly put up the first $100 and asked 100 others to do the same to raise $10,000. The fund drive was successful, and what is now Veterans Memorial Stadium on East Jackson Street was developed.
The first football game played at the stadium was between Thomasville and Albany on Thanksgiving afternoon in 1948. “Jack kicked the extra points that won the game,“ Ed said.
Lee Kelly was a member of the Georgia House of Representatives and chaired the Thomas County Democratic Executive Committee for two decades. He also was a three-time president of the Thomasville-Thomas County Chamber of Commerce and a founding director of Thomas County Federal Savings and Loan Association.
Ed and Jack also presided over the chamber. Both were Rotarians, with Jack serving as president of the local Rotary club and as chairman of various community fund drives. Jack is publisher of a local magazine.
Ed, who served on Thomasville City Commission, is a World War II veteran of the U.S. Army Air Corps. He served on the C&S Bank Board of Directors and the Archbold Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees.
Ed and Jack graduated from Emory University with bachelor of arts degrees from the journalism division. At different times, Ed was editor of the Emory newspaper, The Emory Wheel, and Jack was the publication’s business manager.
A former Thomasville Rose Festival chairman, Ed was originator of the Rose Queen beauty pageant, today Thomasville’s Rose Queen Pageant.
Danimar, an outstanding fullback at Thomasville High School and at Gordon Military College, played on Thomasville’s semiprofessional football team, the Thomasville Bulldozers. He was among the first inductees to the Thomas County Sports Hall of Fame.
Danimar, who served in the U.S. Air Force, died in November 2000 at age 73.
Ed and Jack — and the entire Kelly family — have been active in First Baptist Church for decades.
Said Jack, “We were directed by faith to be in the newspaper business. I never thought about anything else.” Jack enjoyed singing, but realized he probably could not make a living with his voice.
While the Kelly brothers’ reasons for entering the family newspaper business are apparent, Jack said his father had a different reason.
“He wanted to eat,” Jack explained.
EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of a celebration of the Times-Enterprise’s 125th year, this is the second in a year-long series of Sunday stories about important people, places and things in the area. The next one will be published on Feb. 9.
Senior reporter Patti Dozier can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1820.