Edward J.S. Kelly
The gregarious retailer worked at many of Baltimore’s old-line department stores during a 40-year career
When walking to a restaurant in Rehoboth Beach, Del., with Edward Kelly, one learned to start out early.
“You couldn’t walk down the street without Eddie stopping and talking to somebody,” said Robert Hughes, his partner of 38 years. “If I didn’t give him enough lead time, we’d be late for our reservation.”
A gregarious retailer who worked in the old-line department stores of Baltimore, Edward Joseph Stewart Kelly died Friday of cancer at his home in Rehoboth Beach. He was 62.
Mr. Kelly worked more than 40 years in retail, rising from Rehoboth’s Boardwalk Five and Ten Cent Store to attending designer menswear shows in Paris. He befriended co-workers and customers along the way — even the nurses who lingered around his hospital room, Hughes said.
“He just glowed with people,” Mr. Hughes said. “I always joked with him that I would have to get him those blinders they put on horses.”
His career coincided with the decline of the grand department stores, but he continued to sell, working recent summers in a mom-and-pop boutique at the beach.
“He could talk forever,” said Elliott Gold, his supervisor in the late 1990s at Value City in Catonsville. Mr. Kelly managed the jewelry department until 2007.
“I’d look at him and say, ‘Ed, you just spent an hour and 45 minutes with this woman.’ ” Mr. Gold said.
And Mr. Kelly would answer, “‘Well, she wanted to talk about her kids and the problem she had over here,’ ” Mr. Gold said. “That’s just what he would do.”
The son of Joseph B. Kelly, a thoroughbred racing writer, and M. Stewart Monaghan Kelly, a social worker, Mr. Kelly was born in Baltimore and raised on Guilford Avenue in Charles Village. He attended Baltimore Academy of the Visitation, then graduated from City College in 1971, where he edited the yearbook, the Green Bag.
He studied art history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1975.
Mr. Kelly started working summers in Rehoboth Beach at the Henlopen Hotel in 1970. On weekends, he managed the hotel’s boardwalk coffee shop.
He worked in the early 1970s as a salesman in Baltimore at the Linda Lynn dress shop on Lexington Street and a cashier at Wagner’s food market in Waverly.
Next, he bought stationery and served as assistant manager at the Hochschild Kohn store in Harundale Mall.
Giant Foods Inc. opened clothing stores, Pants Corrals, in the 1970s to sell Levi’s jeans. Mr. Kelly became a buyer in 1980, traveling each year to Levi Strauss & Co. factories.
Richard Looman arrived from Ohio to work at Pants Corral in February 1982. There was Mr. Kelly.
“Within five minutes, I’m like, ‘Oh my God,, now I have a friend.’ ” Mr. Looman said.
After Mr. Looman left for a job at Hutzler’s department store, he called Mr. Kelly and encouraged him to come along.
Mr. Kelly joined Hutzler’s in 1984 and became a buyer for designer menswear. He traveled to woolen mills in Milan and attended designer shows in Paris. He also helped plan the renovated downtown store in 1986.
He continued at Hutzler’s as assistant manager of its Towson store and manager in White Marsh until the stores closed by1990. Then he went into jewelry.
Hannah Mazo worked with Mr. Kelly at Hutzler’s. After the store closed, she went shopping at Value City on one Black Friday with the crowds.
Anyone in retail, she said, has distinct appreciation for the bedlam of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. She spotted Mr. Kelly bent over at the jewelry counter.
“He looked at me and just said, ‘ What are you doing here? Are you nuts?’ ” Ms. Mazo said. “He screamed it across the floor, and everybody looked around. It was funny, quite funny.”
In recent summers, he worked at the gift shop Sea Finds. Though a momand-pop boutique, Mr. Kelly bestowed on owner Al Abrams the title of “vice president of operations, East Coast division.”
“Customers would come in and ask for him,” owner Linda Abrams said.
Mr. Kelly was ready when another shopper stalled over a purchase and promised to be back.
“Hewould say, ‘I’ll put you on the be-back bus,’ ” Linda Abrams said.
At the shop, Mr. Kelly would bring the Abramses homemade chocolate sauce and the macaroni and cheese he made with three, sometimes four, cheeses.
Mr. Kelly was a member of the Rehoboth Art League and volunteered in the kitchen at Epworth United Methodist Church.
He also scoured eBay for old photos and postcards of Rehoboth, as well as restaurant matchbooks and menus. He lent some of the items to the Rehoboth Beach Historical Society.
A Mass will be held 10 a.m. today at St. Edmond Catholic Church, 409 King Charles Ave., Rehoboth Beach.
Mr. Kelly is survived by Mr. Hughes, whom he married in 2014. Survivors also include his brother, Jacques Kelly of Baltimore, a reporter for The Baltimore Sun; and sisters Ellen Cora Kelly, Mary Stewart Kelly and Josephine O’Rourke of Baltimore and Ann Rose Whaley of Ocean View, Del. Edward Kelly rose from the Boardwalk Five and Ten Cent Store to attending menswear designer shows in Paris.