Sean Kelly called his dad positive, well-rounded, encouraging, a lot of fun and larger than life.
Everyone who knew Michael Kelly would agree with the assessment of his 21-year-old son. So when the 52-year-old died over the holidays, friends, family and colleagues were left in shock.
“I am just heartbroken,” said Windsor Mayor John Vázquez, who served with Kelly on the Windsor Town Board from 2006-10. “The town of Windsor lost a really good man, good husband, good father, good friend, good community member.”
It wasn’t just the Windsor community Kelly affected, however. Colleagues at Aims Community College, where Kelly had worked since 2005 and as chief financial officer since 2010, were at a loss for words.
“He truly was a living giant,” said Aims President Marsi Liddell. “He was so genuine, so full of life. He enriched everybody’s life around him.”
Kelly died Sunday after being diagnosed with an abdominal illness just a couple of weeks earlier. Kelly’s illness took his life so quickly, his 19-year-old son Daniel Kelly, who was called from active Marine duty in Okinawa, Japan, as soon as the family learned he was ill, missed his dad’s death by two hours. Kelly’s two other sons, 17-year-old Thomas Kelly and 15-year-old Christian Kelly, both attend Windsor High School.
His wife, Susan Kelly said the family had no idea he was sick until he almost choked on a piece of food at a party. When he didn’t feel well the next day, he went to the doctor.
“He was perfectly fine up until about two weeks ago,” Susan said. “We went on a family trip; we went dirt biking; he really didn’t act like there was anything wrong.”
Sean, who attends Colorado State University, said his father was full of life leading up to his death, celebrating with his oldest of four boys in Las Vegas in September when Sean turned 21.
“He never acted his age,” Sean said. “He acted like he was my age. He was in a great mood the last few weeks.”
Vázquez and Liddell said Kelly’s financial savvy helped keep both Windsor and Aims in the black during tough times.
“He brought a sense of awareness to the financial crisis that was looming in 2008-2009,” Vázquez said of Kelly’s time as a Windsor Town Board member. “He certainly persuaded a lot of people on the board to be very conservative on our budget. And we’ve weathered the storm as a community better than most — for a lot of reasons. But certainly Mike brought a lot of that to the table. He was a tremendous asset.”
Liddell said Kelly was able to do the things he did because he could say, “no” without actually saying “no.”
“He was such a genuine person. He would just say, ‘Let’s look at that another way,’” Liddell recalled with a laugh. “He would say, ‘What would be best for the college?’ Going into 2011-2012, I told him, ‘Your job this year is to figure out how Aims can survive without any money from the state, and I’ll be darned, he did it.’ ”
Susan said even knowing he was dying, Kelly still looked at the finances of things and worried about everything else but himself.
“He never, ever, ever said, ‘Why me?’ ” she said through tears. “He was so worried about making sure we’d be taken care of. He was the picture perfect profile of courage in dying.”