When the paper folded in 1981, John D. Shapiro asked Mr. Kelly to become Laurel Race Course's media director, a position he held until 1984 when Frank De Francis bought out Mr. Shapiro.
"Retire to what?" he asked. "I love horse racing, horse people and horse tracks. I've been working on Pimlico's Preakness guide every year, and I'm publicity director for the Maryland Million. I'm happy in my work. Always have been."
He had served as the Maryland Million's publicity director since the race's inception in 1986, and was still handling this job as well as being an historical consultant at Pimlico and the Maryland Jockey Club at the time of his death.
He was often sought by local and national media as an expert on the Preakness and other racing matters.
Because of his genial personality, Mr. Kelly moved easily among the millionaires who owned and raced horses, the veterinarians and stable boys who cared for them, and the exercise riders and jockeys who rode them.
He also appreciated the majesty, drama and sweep of racing and its importance to Maryland. In 1994, he wrote "At the Track: Thoroughbred Racing in Maryland, 1870-1973," for a special issue of the Maryland Historical Magazine devoted to turf sports in Maryland history.
"He had a keen interest not only in Maryland racing lore, but all of Marylandia. He was the last personification of a bygone era when colorful characters like J. Edgar Hoover, Izzy Cohen, Muggins Feldman, Mister Diz, Clem Florio and Charlie Eckman were fixtures at the Maryland tracks," said Mr. Peddicord.
For years, old Pimlico with its wooden stands that were replaced in 1959 by today's steel and concrete structure, and its old Victorian era clubhouse that looked as though it had been plucked from the top deck of a Mississippi River steamboat, were central components and remained so of Mr. Kelly's life for nearly 70 years.
A 1966 electrical fire destroyed the venerable club house. In a 2002 interview with The Sun, Mr. Kelly, who had witnessed the fire, said, "It was sad. A part of racing burned down that night. The old clubhouse was a way of life for racing fans."
"Joe never got worn down and never gave up hope that Pimlico would one day return to its heyday, when it was the showcase for Maryland racing and not just the Preakness," said Ms. Goodall.
Mr. Kelly continued visiting Pimlico nearly every day and writing stories in both longhand and on a manual typewriter.
Last month, Mr. Kelly received the first Robert and Anne Heighe award for excellence in equestrian journalism in a ceremony that was held at Harford Community College's Hays-Heighe House. Gov. Martin O'Malley proclaimed Oct. 19, 2012, as a "Special Day of tribute to Joseph B. Kelly in Maryland."
While he enjoyed vacations at Rehoboth Beach, Del., and hosting an annual St. Patrick's Day party, it was racing that defined his life.
Mr. Kelly was sanguine when it came time for him to explain his secret for longevity: "Life is just series of adjustments," he said.
His wife of 44 years died in 1993.
Mr. Kelly was a longtime communicant of St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church, 740 N. Calvert St., where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered 11 a.m. Friday.
Surviving are two sons, Jacques Kelly, a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, and Edward J. Kelly, both of Baltimore; four daughters, Ellen Cora Kelly, Mary Stewart Kelly, and Josephine S. O'Rourke, all of Baltimore, and Ann Rose Whaley of Ocean View, Del.; a sister, Mary Agnes Evelius of Timonium; and five grandchildren.
Baltimore Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this report.