Runners want statue of Kelley in Mystic

Mystic - If a loosely organized group of running enthusiasts gets its wish, a statue of their mild-mannered, soft-spoken mentor, who died last month, would stand where once stood a statue of a man who was known less for being Connecticut's deputy governor than for leading a massacre of Pequot Indians.

The runners' group hopes to put a statue of John Kelley at the top of Montauk Avenue, where for more than 100 years a statue of John Mason stood. That statue was moved to Windsor, a town Mason helped settle, at the urging of the local Indian tribes that did not want it to remain at the site of where Mason lead the 1637 attack.

Kelley, who died last month, was a world-class runner, a two-time Olympian and 1957 Boston Marathon champion. He took part in the marathon at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 and in Rome in 1960. In 1959 he won the Pan American Games Marathon. He was an eight-time U.S. National Marathon Champion, 1956 to 1963.

The top of Mystic's Clift Street, where it meets Montauk Avenue, has long been referred to among local runners as Mystic's own Heartbreak Hill. The name was taken from a half-mile stretch of the 20th mile of the Boston Marathon.

Kelly, who lived just down the street from the intersection, often challenged his fellow runners by ending their trek with a climb up Clift Street from River Road to Pequot Avenue.

Jim Roy, who lives on River Road, accompanied Kelley on many of those runs.

"I met "Kell" when I was 14 years old, a sophomore at Fitch. He was my coach, then my mentor and then my friend. We had a relationship for 36 years. I think that's true for a lot of people," Roy said. "He's been a friend to neighbors and runners and to the community. His house was always open."

Roy said that when he and his wife learned that Kelley was ill, they talked of doing some sort of tribute to him.

Last week Roy told the Groton Town Council that he and others have begun raising funds in an effort to erect a life-sized statue of Kelley in running pose. They have established a web page, www.johnkelley.org., and a John Kelley Memorial Fund account at the Chelsea Groton Savings bank.

He said later that if funding would allow it, there might even be a dog at Kelley's side, as there often was in his life.

Roy's idea reflects a statue on the Boston Marathon route of another, unrelated John Kelley, now known as John Kelley the Elder, who won the marathon in 1935 and 1945.

"You just want to do something when you lose someone so special. We felt like a real tribute to Kell would be to have a monument here," Roy said. "He trained hundreds of runners around here, and he ran people up that hill, Heartbreak Hill. That's where we think it should be."

These days, a monkey puzzle tree adorns the circle. Roy cautioned the council that someday the tree, expected to grow as high as 30 feet, will impede utility lines, putting it at risk of being cut down. He said that wouldn't happen if the location is approved for the statue.

"We'd have to transplant it," Roy said. "Kell would never want to kill anything. He wouldn't kill an ant or a fly. He loved the simple pleasures of the world. That's the way he was."

c.potter@theday.com

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