Merreen E. Kelly, a former Baltimore County administrative officer who earlier had been an associate superintendent of Baltimore County public schools, died of lung cancer Sunday at University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center. He was 79.
The son of Earl Linwood Kelly, a Koppers Co. foundry man, and Helen Marie Wilhelm Kelly, a homemaker, Merreen Earl Kelly was born in Baltimore and raised in Arbutus.
A 1953 graduate of Towson High School, he earned a bachelor's degree in education from what is now Towson University in 1957. He later earned a master's degree in administrative supervision from the University of Maryland, College Park.
Mr. Kelly began teaching at Parkville High School in 1957 and in 1968 was appointed director of staff relations and associate superintendent for physical facilities.
"He was quite a guy and came up from being a teacher. When he was associate superintendent, he always came to meetings well-prepared," said Dr. Robert Y. Dubel, a longtime friend who headed Baltimore County public schools for 16 years before retiring in 1992.
"He was also in charge of negotiating with the unions, and they loved him because he was a straight shooter," said Dr. Dubel. "He had the ability to bring people together, and they trusted him. He was one of the best that I've ever worked with."
In 1990, Mr. Kelly left Baltimore County public schools to become executive secretary to Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden.
When he made the appointment, Mr. Hayden described Mr. Kelly as a "top-notch administrator, knowledgeable about county government and, above all, a people-oriented executive," he said in a 1990 article in The Evening Sun.
"I've had a lot of experience working with the county public works, recreation and parks and budget offices," Mr. Kelly said in the article.
A year later, he became county administrator. Mr. Kelly later worked in the same position for County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger until retiring in 1997.
The longtime Cockeysville resident later served as a member of the Baltimore County Revenue Authority.
Mr. Kelly came out of retirement in 2002, when County Executive James T. Smith Jr. appointed him as his special assistant to oversee labor negotiations.
"My goal whenever I was negotiating was to try to get to yes, rather than dig my heels in," Mr. Kelly told The Baltimore Sun in an article at the time.
"Merreen Kelly has certainly a significant history with dealing with both the public needs and the private-sector needs," Cole B. Weston, president of the Baltimore County lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, said in an interview at the time with The Sun.
"Everybody likes and respects him. There's just no two ways about it," said Thomas B. Kelleher, who was president at the time of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 67. "You never hear anything wrong. He's always top-shelf and a real gentleman."
Mr. Kelly served in the Smith administration for one term until stepping down in 2006.
He was an avid golfer and was a longtime member of Duke's Duffers, who began playing at the old Worthington Valley Golf Course and later at the then-Longview Golf Course.
"When Merreen retired, he played 100 games in a row," said Dr. Dubel, who is also a member of Duke's Duffers. "He also kept track of all the scores."
"He was a golf fanatic," said his wife of 58 years, the former Elizabeth Merritt.
Services were private.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Kelly is survived by a son, M. Stuart Kelly of Cockeysville; two daughters, Erin Elizabeth Kelly of New Freedom, Pa., and Kerry Kelly Wolf of Westminster; a brother, Leroy L. Kelly of Charleston, S.C.; and five grandchildren.