The top honour bestowed on Herne Hill Harriers (HHH) members is that of Life Membership. However, there is a unique type of recognition that can be bestowed on members on rare occasions, Claude Pearce was HHH’s Jubilee President (50 years), George Pallett became our Diamond president (60 years) – but it was Kevin Kelly who was selected as the Herne Hill Harrier’s President during the club’s 100th year.
It is impossible to record the deeds of such a person as Kevin and the effect that he had on all those who knew him onto paper, but Kevin’s presence speaks volumes. No one influenced the club and its members more than Kevin.
Elected in 1954 while only 12, the ‘HHH bug’ grew. He was influenced by the fine athletes of the club during the 1950s and avidly devoured information on athletics and his other favourite sports, football and boxing. Not for Kevin a local team for his favourite – but Newcastle United, the country’s finest in the 1950s.
In becoming part of the club scene, Kevin was encouraged to train and developed a talent as an all-rounder. It was in the triple jump, however, where Kevin excelled. At this event, Kevin won the Surrey Championships in 1963, 1964, 1966 and 1967, the London title in 1965 and 1966 and in the same year, the All-Ireland Championship. (Kevin was born in St Albans of Irish parentage.) His personal best for the event stands at 14.48.
His personal bests for other events range from 10.3 for 100 yards to 2:53.27 for the marathon; 52.0 for 440 yards (51.7m) to 2.52 for the pole vault; and 2:00.5 for 880 yards (1:59.8 equivalent for 800m) to 4922 points in the Decathlon. Kevin had to wait until he was a Veteran before he gained a British record! With a Veterans club record of 12.45 in 1982, he went to the UK Veterans Championships the following year with high hopes. A UK Veterans Indoor record of 11.46 didn’t satisfy him at all as he had hoped for a metre further!
The years of toll at this strenuous event had taken their toll as during the Surrey Championships of 1983, Kevin crashed onto the runway tearing tendons behind the knee severely. That was the end of his active career.
The perfect clubman, Kevin channelled his energies into all areas of HHH. A BAAB Coach, Kevin took many athletes to the top. These include Garry Doerr (Junior triple Jump international), Chris Carden (Junior Long Jump international) and Jack Sam, who set a HHH Junior Club record of 48.4, amongst many others. He organised the highly successful club ‘Coach-Ins’ in the late 1960s; he edited Red & Black, the HHH magazine; he was a successful Track and Field Captain; he established the close link between IK Vikingen of Goteborg and HHH; and he was Honorary General Secretary during the 1980s.
When Tooting Bec athletics track was upgraded in 1985, Kevin applied for the position of Athletics Development officer for the London Borough of Wandsworth. His application was successful. He was a perfect fit, and he became fortunate to be doing a job of work which was the same as the sport he loved, part-based at Tooting track. He kept a fair and impartial rule over all the clubs that used the borough’s tracks.
Kevin was the backbone of HHH for many years. He kept the club together while others flagged. His obsession is such that he accumulated a treasure of HHH club memorabilia and ephemera: photos, newspaper clippings, programmes, etc. No one knew as much about the club as Kevin, and he was seen as ‘the oracle’ and guardian of its history. He was responsible for bringing back many of the club’s old members into the fold, such as the late David Jacobs (4x100m Olympic Gold medallist at Stockholm in 1912 and Olympians Ernie Haley (the founder of the London Schools AA and international Fred Hulford.
Kevin was rewarded for his service by being elected as Club President in 1971 and gained higher recognition on the award of Life Membership in 1974.
Kevin published on local athletics history but his magnum opus without doubt was the HHH Club History – Herne Hill Harriers Into the Millennium – celebrating 100 years of the club and perhaps the most comprehensive of any similar work.
Kevin probably didn’t realise the effect he had on other people. I must record my thanks to Kevin as a coach, a friend and as someone I admire – and there must be a huge crowd of people saying exactly the same thing. He made many friends through athletics and for many people, it is difficult to think of Herne Hill Harriers without Kev Kelly. The two are synonymous.
There are special others who think of Kevin, his sons Matthew and Neal and daughter Emma and his grandchildren. We offer them our condolences.
Kevin crammed a whole lifetime into the club. Herne Hill Harriers. The club in turn rewarded Kevin with its Presidency in its 100th year. No single person deserved that more.