The Life of Kathryn Kelley – an American saga

58-year resident of Piedmont passes on Feb. 20 at age 89

By Larry Kelley
My mother, Kathryn Jane Longua was born on August 7, 1923 in Pelham, a suburb of New York City to Josephine Leahy Longua and to a Mr. Longua who was and is the only Frenchman in our forbearers’ otherwise unbroken chain of Irish men and women that reaches back to Ireland’s conquest by Cromwell.

I never knew my grandfather’s first name because after abandoning my grandmother and infant mother, he moved to New Jersey, married, and fathered a number of illegitimate children.

The only time I remember my mother ever speaking of him was when she told me, ‘Since he never tried to contact me, I’ve never tried to contact him.”

At a time in America when self-reliance was not simply prized but was the only option, Kathryn’s mother, Josephine, newly abandoned, found clerical work in Manhattan. It was the roaring 20’s. While she traveled by train daily from Pelham to New York City, Kathryn was, to varying degrees, left to the care of 12 surrogate parents. These were her aunts and uncles, Josephine’s brothers and sisters.

Kathryn’s mother was the youngest of 13 children, the daughter of Edward and Kathryn Leahy. It was a time in America when Irish Catholic families were very big, and for good reason. The Leahy clan instinctively knew that it was their sacred calling to help raise their youngest sibling’s precocious red-headed child. My mother spoke lovingly of her favorite uncle, Austin, for whom her grandson is named.

As Kathryn entered her teenage years, the country descended into the Great Depression. And while Josephine kept her clerical job in Manhattan, it was clear that Kathryn wouldn’t be attending an Ivy League college, the essential gateway for an Irish girl without pedigree to gain access to the elite society of the East.

In 1941 at age 18, she graduated from Pelham High, enrolled in the Katharine Gibbs Technical Institute, and the Second World War began. All eight of the Leahy men went into the military, some deployed to Europe, others to the Pacific theater. The U.S. was horribly unprepared to fight a world war on two fronts and on opposite sides of the earth.

Two of the Leahy boys did not come home. I don’t know their names or where they were killed. Mother would not talk of it.

I came to realize that she was defined by a deep religious morality and an utter tenderness of soul. Their loss was another sort of abandonment, I suppose, too difficult to contemplate.

By 1945, Kathryn was working as an assistant to an executive at Rockefeller Center when she was spotted by a dashing, Warren Kelley, a young man educated at the Hamilton College and nearing graduation at New York City Medical College. He was a young doctor on his way up.

In the fall of that year Warren took my mother out on their first date. He picked her up at work and they walked three blocks up Fifth Avenue to the Sherry- Netherland Hotel, which still exists at the foot of Central Park. There they met Warren’s brother, Robert, and his wife, Georgette Kelley of California.

The movie-star handsome Robert Kelley arrived in uniform, a naval airman and commander who miraculously survived the war in the Pacific. It was a near perfect moment for Kathryn and Warren to be in New York City, to be young and to be in love.

Two years later, on June 12, 1947, Kathryn and Warren were married in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, across the street from where Warren had first laid eyes on her.

Although they were overjoyed, when they drove away from their wedding reception, they both cried. As was standard practice in the medical field, Warren had been assigned to take up internship where his services were needed, in his case, Highland Hospital in Oakland. They cried because neither of them had ever traveled west of New Jersey and because they were leaving everything and everyone they had ever known.

For Kathryn it was yet again, a painful kind of abandonment.

In 1950 the North Koreans backed by the Soviets invaded South Korea. Shortly thereafter my father was drafted into the Army. In early 1951, he shipped out for Korea where he headed up a MASH unit. Once again, Kathryn was alone, this time with me as a one-year old.

As the war progressed, American military planners saw that they could fly wounded soldiers out of Korea and into Japan where the U.S. still retained large numbers of occupation forces. Warren was transferred to an American run hospital in Osaka, Japan, and in early 1952, was able to send for Kathryn and me. We booked passage and sailed for two weeks to Japan, stopping in Hawaii on the way.

In Japan, Warren and Kathryn met and befriend medical and senior military officers. There my brother, James, was born. In 1954 with the war over, the four of us moved to Piedmont where I was enrolled in first grade at Wildwood School.

For the next 40 years, while living in Piedmont, Kathryn volunteered for the Junior League and was a no-nonsense Cub Scout den leader. But her primary legacy was to her friends, her husband and her family. Kathryn was the best ambassador a husband and doctor could hope to have.

My brother and I know that our mother could not more selflessly have loved us.

We knew that she personified wisdom, dignity, morality, kindness and the triumph of an indomitable American spirit.

Kathryn died on February 20 at Heatherwood in Walnut Creek where she lived since 2011 and where was so lovingly treated for the grief she experienced by the loss of her knight in shining armor, her husband, Warren.

She is survived by her sons Larry Kelley of Piedmont (and wife Debbie), James Warren Kelley of New York City, and a daughter, Blair Kelley. She is also survived by two grandsons, Brendan and Austin Kelley, both at the University of Denver.

Kathryn is predeceased by her husband of 56 years, who died in 2003.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, March 2, at St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, 30 Mandalay Road in Oakland at 11a.m., followed by a reception at Claremont Country Club.

The family requests that in lieu of flowers memorial donations may be sent to St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, 30 Mandalay Road, Oakland 94618, or to Children’s Hospital, 747 52nd Street, Oakland 94609.

By | 2017-02-28T07:31:12-08:00 March 5th, 2013|blogroll|Comments Off on The Life of Kathryn Kelley – an American saga

About the Author:

Larry Kelley’s life was utterly changed by 9/11. On the day after the attacks, on his way to work, he was struck by the sudden realization that World War III had commenced. Like most Americans he desperately wanted to find out who were these people who attacked us, what could ordinary citizens do to join the battle and how can those plotting to kill us in future attacks be defeated. Mr. Kelley has written scores of columns on the dangers of western complacency.