A Forgotten Father
My siblings often tell me that I tend to over-glorify my physician-dad and his life. Perhaps … but I’m a storyteller and my father had plenty of good stories to tell.
Despite my inquisitive journalistic nature, though, I could never get him to talk very much about his own father. In our family it’s something of a scandal as to what he did. History has not been kind to him. Dad called his mother, Alice Ward Kelly, his “guiding light” while his father, Augustine Charles Kelly, was largely forgotten. The couple had married on December 27, 1916 in Brooklyn.
We do know that “Gus” was a man of “substance” early in his life. Dad said the family lived very well during the Roaring 20s. My grandfather worked in the hospitality business and rose to senior management positions at several high-end East Coast hotels. This included the celebrated Willard Hotel in Washington, DC.
The hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue dates to the 1840s and is famous for hosting the high and mighty, including nearly every US president, in its time. When my son Kyle (that’s Gus’s great grandson) was a college student in the nation’s capitol, I was hoping to stay at The Willard one night. First I’d need a lottery hit — “room rates range from $299 to $4,100 per night.”
“It’s a wise father that knows his own child.”
I have yet to find any hard facts as to, if and when, the Willard times occurred. It follows though. My father did once tell me that his mother was very friendly with Thomas Marshall, who mostly lived at the Willard Hotel during his two terms as Woodrow Wilson’s vice president from 1913 to 1921. VP Marshall, who was the son of a Indiana physician, died at The Willard in 1925.
I also found that Gus was the manager of Holland House, a posh Fifth Avenue hotel, and the Briarcliff Manor, which overlooked the magnificent Hudson Palisades. Not too shabby.
Gus died in 1947 shortly before his 60th birthday, but he did live to know his son had earned a medical degree. But I don’t know if he was there in 1943 to see my dad get his doctor’s diploma. According to my father, Gus was either a drunken weakling who abandoned his family or he was an affable but over-pressured guy who died of a legitimate illness. It was probably somewhere in between. We’ll never really know.
I make a broad analogy: My father, a lifelong Republican and WW II vet, said that his favorite American President was Harry Truman. The “plain speaking” man from Missouri, commenting about his own otherwise undistinguished farmer-father, John, said: “How could he be a failure if his son became President of the United States?”
Well, as it pertains to Gus Kelly: “How could he be a failure if his son became a doctor?”