A Celebration of Life

At a memorial service just one day shy of his 73rd birthday, family members, friends, colleagues, and former students offered a birthday toast to Richard A. Kelly, who had taught at Colorado Academy for more than 30 years before retiring in 2013. More than 200 people gathered at CA’s Campus Center on Saturday, August 25, to celebrate Richard’s eclectic interests and full life.

With music that reflected his wide-ranging taste—Bach, Carmina Burana, Native American flutes—and remembrances that brought laughter and tears, many speakers—including former students—shared stories about a unique man who made an indelible impression on everyone who was fortunate enough to have known him.

His older brother told listeners, “Colorado Academy meant everything to him.” College friends described how he “liked to ask provocative questions…and liked to stir the pot.”

Watch a video with images from Richard Kelly’s life.

Meg Kelly remembers her father

Richard’s daughter Meg reflected on growing up with her father—and holding on to his memory. “When I was little and we would swim in the ocean, he would take me out to where I couldn’t stand. It was an adventure! I’d ride on his back, my chubby arms clinging to his neck, usually very tightly. He grumbled, ‘You’re choking me.’ ‘I’m holding on,’ I would say. I couldn’t seem to loosen my grip.

“If I could talk to my dad today, I would say, ‘not cool. Leaving me, leaving us like that wasn’t cool.’ A younger version of me would say, ‘but dad I’m still holding on, just like in the ocean.’

“Then I would say, ‘Thank you. Thank you for the lessons, thank you for the generosity, thank you for the adventure and for the fearlessness you taught me. I can only hope to have as much light as you did.’”

Dr. Mike Davis addresses guests at Richard Kelly's Celebration of Life

Dr. Mike Davis addresses guests at Richard Kelly’s Celebration of Life.

Dr. Mike Davis remembers a colleague

CA Head of School Dr. Mike Davis paid tribute to Richard in remarks remembering his commitment to teaching and to students, his personal integrity, his vision, and his larger-than-life personality. These are excerpts from Dr. Davis’s remarks.

“I count myself to be among the lucky to have known and worked with Richard.  Today, I will speak about his role at Colorado Academy. Independent schools bandy about the words ‘master teacher’ a lot. But, there are master teachers and then there are MASTER teachers. It’s not about tenure or years of experience. He embodied the Master Teacher in the best of ways. He was deeply intellectual, and deeply committed first and foremost to students, though not just to students, but also to the institution. He understood the importance of why institutions need to do the “right’ thing, be it for teaching and learning, or for justice. From his experience as an activist in the 1960s, he used his voice, his talent, and his vision to challenge CA to be a better place. For that, we at CA are all grateful.

“Richard understood that, like all of teaching, material must be relevant, valuable, and useable for the concepts to take hold. He sometimes shared his own math-related confessions. Richard said, ‘My worst grade in high school was geometry.’ It turns out that he didn’t like ‘memorizing proofs and spitting them back.’ Instead, he saw math as an adventure and process of discovery, and that’s the way he taught the subject.

Meg Kelly, surrounded by family and friends, smiled hearing Dr. Davis talk about her father's sense of humor.

Meg Kelly, surrounded by family and friends, smiles as Dr. Davis talks about her father’s sense of humor.

“That’s exactly how Caitlin Morris of CA’s Class of ‘96 remembered him upon his retirement from CA. ‘From his teaching, I learned you have to approach math with a calm and logical brain,’ she said. ‘That turned the light on for me, and I went on to get a degree in finance.’ There are countless stories of how Richard urged his students to study math, economics, philosophy, and to follow their passions. In class, he was serious, but also full of joy and humor. He had fun with his students and understood the need to inject humor in ways to help them have comfort with challenging ideas and concepts.

“As a teacher, Richard was frequently ahead of his time; he developed a popular and highly regarded Advanced Placement Economics course, curriculum that fulfilled his goal to elevate personal financial literacy education. One former colleague noted to me that he understood and was talking about the coming role of technology and computers at least a decade before everyone else.

“Richard’s teaching will reverberate through the generations. He impacted thousands of students, and I consider myself one of them. No, not in the classroom sense, but in the way he shared his philosophies and discoveries about life.

“It was a common occurrence during those last few years of his employment here at CA, and even well on into his retirement, that he would fire off a late night- email with his musings on a subject. He copied or blind copied me on an amazing number of emails with colleagues—debating everything from how we run awards ceremonies to how we better support financially deserving students, or waxing poetic about calculus. You knew it was a great one when many people coming for coffee in the Smith Center in the morning would say with a grin on their faces: ‘Did you see Richard’s email?’

More than 200 people attended Richard Kelly's Celebration of Life.

More than 200 people attended Richard Kelly’s Celebration of Life.

“Far beyond the walls of CA, Richard had developed a reputation among readers of college applications around the country for the recommendations that he would write for CA students. Cathy Nabbefeld from our college office shared, ‘I still remember the day one of the senior admissions deans from Stanford called me and asked, “Who is this Richard Kelly?!”’

“And for his part, Richard relished writing recommendations. What Richard knew in his heart was that every student was worth writing about.  He said, ‘There was always a story to tell, and I never turned a kid down, even after hundreds and hundreds of recs written.’

“As he prepared to say farewell to students in his last year of teaching, he predicted what he would miss the most. ‘Oh, my students! The kids keep your mind alive. They keep my brain working. They keep me on my toes. I will miss them in spades!’

“At his last function as a CA faculty member, Richard delivered the remarks at the Class of 2013 Commencement Dinner with his daughter, Meg, in the audience. He used the ‘curve-ball wisdom’ of Baseball Hall of Famer, Yogi Berra. Richard told the students that Berra’s one-liners and off-the-cuff quips quirkily, often paradoxically, contain insightful truths about life and how to live it.  Re-reading it now, it seems to be just as much a farewell for us today as for his students back then. Here are Richard’s words:

‘When a teammate asked Yogi for directions to his home, Yogi advised, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Moral perhaps: Keep truckin’ ahead, seniors, you’ll eventually get there. The forks in the roads of your life may not be the big deals they seem to be. Besides, the detours, the missed turns, perhaps Robert Frost’s roads not taken, will enable you to better appreciate the meaning, the importance to you, of your final destination.’

“Richard ended with this advice to our seniors. ‘Graduates, position yourselves to play many positions. And how to get there? Yogi advises, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”  Find many mentors, both in the infield and in the outfield of what’s going down; watch them carefully. You’ll observe a lot, …you’ll learn a lot.’

“I learned a lot from Richard. We all did. May we hold that knowledge and our memories close.”