JOHN M. KELLY JR. / 1919-2007
STAR-BULLETIN / 1982
John Kelly was the founder of Save Our Surf.
His Save Our Surf gave waves a break
STORY SUMMARY »
John M. Kelly Jr., 88, the founder of Save Our Surf, died Wednesday at his home at Black Point.
Starting in 1964, the grass-roots environmental group is credited with successfully blocking developments that would have destroyed 140 surf spots between Pearl Harbor and Koko Head.
Kelly was also an accomplished pianist, choral director, a union activist, a World War II Navy hero, a champion of Hawaiian sovereignty and an outspoken opponent of nuclear bombs.
U.S. Rep Neil Abercrombie said yesterday, "It's fair to say that John Kelly was the first modern environmentalist in Hawaii."
FULL STORY »
STAR-BULLETIN / 1997
John Kelly, the founder of Save Our Surf, proselytizes passers-by at Magic Island in June 1997 about the harm that would be caused to the shoreline if a proposed artificial reef were sunk offshore at Ala Moana Beach.
Environmental crusader and avid waterman John M. Kelly Jr., 88, died of Alzheimer's disease Wednesday.
But true to a lifetime of physical activity, he swam in the ocean as recently as July and was not confined to bed in his Black Point home until the last few weeks, daughter Kathleen Kelly said yesterday.
"I think it's because he was so strong," she said, noting that her father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1989 but was still able to recognize close friends and family.
Kelly is best known for founding the grass-roots group Save Our Surf in 1964, which used "people power" to successfully stop dozens of development projects on Oahu's South Shore over the years.
"He was a champion of protecting surf sites, a tireless community organizer and a great storyteller," said David Kimo Frankel, an attorney with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp.
Storied surfer and Waikiki beachboy Rabbit Kekai called Kelly "one of the instigators" of surf spot protection. "I think he made an impact."
Kelly said her father "surfed for his health and enjoyment. He loved the sea. ... He 'got it' that everything in nature is worth protecting."
Born in San Francisco, Kelly moved to Honolulu with his parents, sculptor Katherine Harland Kelly and etching artist John M. Kelly Sr., when he was 6 or 7, Kathleen Kelly said.
Growing up at Black Point, Kelly learned fishing, net-making and diving skills from native Hawaiian neighbors, Kelly said.
That early contact seemed to set a course for a lifetime of interest in and support of native Hawaiian causes, she said.
"Hawaiians were already decimated by the time he was a young man," Kelly said, "but I think he got just a little bit of how the Hawaiians related to the land and protected and cared for it so it was sustainable."
Kelly studied choral and piano music at the Juilliard School of Music in New York and worked eight years as a choral instructor in Palama Settlement, where he encouraged students to pursue the music of their varied ethnic heritages -- Japanese, Korean and Filipino -- Kathleen Kelly said.
"I thought he was the world's most wonderful father," she said. "He had faith in people. If they had the information and respect for each other, that they could get together and resist destruction of the land and the coast."
Kelly is survived by his wife, Marion, whom he married in 1943, daughters Kathleen and Colleen, son Keahi Meyers and two grandchildren.
Arrangements are being handled by Ultimate Cremation Services.
A memorial service is expected but has not yet been planned. "We know there are many people who may want to remember him together," Kelly said.