Jerry D. Kelly, whose boyhood love of clanging, squealing streetcars grew into a lifelong interest and resulted in his becoming an active member of the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, died Feb. 20 from sepsis at Carroll Hospital Center in Westminster.
The Reisterstown resident was 84.
“It’ll be hard to replace Jerry because he was really such a part of the fabric of the museum,” said John O’Neill, the museum’s president.
“It’ll be horrendous trying to figure out all the things he did, because every time you looked around the museum, he was there,” Mr. O’Neill said. “He picked up and distributed the mail. He answered the phone, planned weddings, charters and other special events. He was such a goodwill ambassador for the museum.”
“He was my right-hand man and a jack of all trades,” he said.
Jerry Donald Kelly was born in Pennsylvania.
“His [parents were] Francis Kelly, who managed the appliance store in Towson for Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., and Thelma Kelly, who worked in sales for Singer Sewing Machine store, also in Towson, where she also taught sewing,” said his wife of 58 years, the former Barbara A. Godbee.
She said his parents adopted him in New York City when he was just 2 months old.
“He never wanted to look up his background,” his wife said. “He always considered Francis and Thelma to be his parents.”
Mr. Kelly spent his early years on Harvey Street in South Baltimore and moved in 1940 with his family to Edmondson Village.
He attended City College until his senior year, when he left. He later obtained his General Education Development diploma, his wife said.
During the Korean War, he served as a cryptographer at Fort Meade, “and sometimes he was sent to the White House to deliver messages,” Mrs. Kelly said.
From the late 1950s until 1997, he worked for Equifax, a credit reporting company, then for nine years he worked for the Maryland Insurance Division. He retired in 2005.
Mr. Kelly’s interest in streetcars developed early in his life while he lived in South Baltimore.
“He was 8 years old and after [his family] moved to Edmondson Village, as a young kid … he’d go down to Edmondson Avenue with a pad of paper and write down the numbers of the streetcars that went by and describe the type of car,” his wife said. “He was very, very young at the time. Times were different then.”
Mr. Kelly joined the Baltimore Streetcar Museum in 1983 and quickly became a ubiquitous presence. He was trained as a motorman, conductor and dispatcher and later took on additional duties.
“He loved talking about the old days of streetcars. If you didn’t want to hear about them, then you didn’t want to talk to Jerry,” said Ed Amrhein, the streetcar museum’s administrative vice president, with a laugh.
“He knew all the lines and could tell you when a line was abandoned or routes were changed. He could rattle off those changes because he was so into it,” Mr. Amrhein said.
“In addition to handling parties and rentals, Jerry loved showing people the museum at all hours,” said Andrew S. Blumberg, a museum member and publicist. “He was one of our most well-known and visible members. Whatever needed to be done, he did it.”
“He was a student of the old Baltimore and had an encyclopedic knowledge of the city’s streetcar routes,” Mr. Blumberg said. “He was the perfect ambassador for the museum.”
Martin Van Horn, a Baltimore rail historian, museum member and author, said he and Mr. Kelly “go back 60 years-plus. He was a tremendously great guy.”
“I came to him a lot for information,” Mr. Van Horn said. “I remember Jerry taking me to Philadelphia in 1957 to ride the Market Street cars, which were coming off.”
Mr. Kelly was riding when the streetcar era in Baltimore came to an end on Nov. 3, 1963, when car No. 7084 rolled to a stop in the Irvington car barn.
“Jerry wasn’t aboard car 7407 — that had been chartered by the National Railway Historical Society,” Mr. Amrhein said. “He wanted to ride a last actual regularly scheduled car.”
Mr. Kelly was the author of “Two Bells,” a regular column published in The Live Wire, the museum’s newsletter.
“He would write about where a line went or a particular experience he had while riding it. The column was never current, it was about the old days,” Mr. Amrhein said.
“He had many fond memories of the 9 and 14 car lines,” said James A. Genthner, another longtime museum member, and a motorman. “Jerry was a good storyteller and had the ability to make friends wherever he went.”
Mr. Kelly enjoyed collecting directories, maps and timetables related to United Railways and Electric Co. and the Baltimore Transit Co. Part of his collection was placed online through Digital Maryland.
He also enjoyed traveling by trains and visiting railroad and streetcar museums.
“Whenever and wherever he could, we’d travel by train,” Mrs. Kelly said.
A baseball fan, Mr. Kelly had also been a longtime volunteer at the Babe Ruth and Sports Legends Museum. He also maintained an interest in World War II history and aviation.
He was a communicant for nearly 50 years at All Saints Episcopal Church, 203 East Chatsworth Ave., Reisterstown, where a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a daughter, M. Colleen Kelly Gellatly of Sykesville. His son, Timothy M. Kelly, died in 1995.