June 2018 Volume 15

Robert Anthony Kelly Jr.

Everton Barrett
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The irrepressible Robert Anthony Kelly graced the halls of Kingston College between September 1967 and June 1973. During that period, all who attended KC should have experienced the RAK phenomena, for indeed he was everywhere, the mountain of a man-child dominated the table tennis board in second form and displayed a quest for dominance on the sunlight cup squad of those years. Prior to that, the Whitfield Town product was a promising Greenwich primary aspirant who his playmates knew would be successful and they clamored to be in his company.

In those formative years, encountering Robert Kelly either on the cricket pitch or the table tennis board at the back of the Melbourne Park building meant one had to be fearless, reasonably contentious and willing to go toe to toe with the oversize brash teenager who just filled any room he occupied. Saying he was popular would have been an understatement. There was a running joke that Robert after playing one of his many pranks was being sought by the Headmaster along with his cohorts. They all escaped except for Kelly who the Headmaster spotted some distance away hiding behind a slender pole which could not conceal his large frame.

The seventies saw many of us immigrating to the United States to further our education and Kelly was no exception. In the US, he sharpened his academic focus and he blossomed in the halls of New York academia. Honing his leadership and political skills, the big guy earned a law degree. He became the persuasive Barrister and entrepreneur that would accumulate impressive real estate holdings in the Springfield, Massachusetts area.

In the early eighties, the elder statesman and KC legend Foggy Burrows did wonders for KC and the old boys’ network when he recruited a number of old boys for the KCOBA-USA chapter in New York and among them was an eager Robert Kelly. He became President of the organization in 1991, and as they say, the rest is history. RAK polished his philanthropic skills and Kingston College was to receive great blessings. He lived by his mantra “to whom much is given, much is expected”.

The brash kid who led a cafeteria strike in 1971 over bad food, escalating prices and poor service was now delivering to KC new kitchen equipment to improve its food delivery and reduce cost. Melbourne Park received new commercial stoves and refrigeration equipment with funds from his own pocket. His big heart was bountiful and he put his money where his mouth was. He started the breakfast feeding program at Melbourne Park for underserved youth, this later encompassed lunch feeding also. A program that started feeding 35 students is now feeding over 300 students today. Thus was his vision and his magnanimity.

After a number of years at the helm of KCOBA-USA during which he doled out numerous scholarships to students and graduates, helping many to attend tertiary institution in Jamaica, USA, Cuba and elsewhere he made what I regard as the ultimate sacrifice. He surrendered the leadership and returned to Jamaica to get in the trenches and help a floundering Kingston College. In 2011, he ignored his many health issues and took up the role as Plant Manager under adverse condition.

As a returning resident, he encountered challenging conditions that we in the United States only read about and exclaim in disbelief. One bout of illness left him in UWI hospital severely incapacitated but conducting daily briefings for the Interns as the longest living patient in Jamaica with a kidney transplant. Such was the spirit of the man.

In his new role, he renovated the chemistry lab, updated bathrooms, rebuilt staff rooms, upgraded buildings and added new windows to buildings neglected for years with no funding in site to rehabilitate. One still marvels at the stroke of brilliance which saw him turning the dust bowl that was Clovelly Park’s play field into beautiful football turf by putting a fencing around it and instituting a regular watering regimen.

No, RAK was no ordinary old boy, he was a true renaissance man who sang in the choir as a boy and who helped to finance them as an elder, and in between he helped dozens of deserving students realize their dreams. When enough scholarships weren’t forthcoming he sought a meeting with the Cuban ambassador to Jamaica and pleaded for more Cuban scholarships.

All the time he spent in the trenches working to improve the school’s infrastructure left no time for his other interests. His chicken farm in St Thomas suffered. As life robbed him of his mobility, he pressed even harder to attend every fund raising event the school initiated, every planning event and every community event that benefitted Kingston College. Yes, he was truly committed to the advancement of Kingston College and all who came across his path as students, teachers and benefactors.

In the end, let him rest assured knowing that the family is eternally grateful and we will honor his name, his service and his generous heart for as long as his legacy endures.

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