Article by John Law | The Niagara Falls Review | April 6, 2020
For years, Pat Kelly turned young fighters into warriors. Into champions. Into gold medal winners.
His gym was where lightweight boxers came to take the next step. In the case of Mike Strange, it was the Olympics. In the case of Billy Irwin, it was the Canadian lightweight title.
But as fierce as his workouts and training sessions were, Kelly was an easygoing fatherly figure to everyone he met. And he met lots.
Two weeks ago, Kelly fell ill and was soon diagnosed with COVID-19, along with his wife Bunny. Sunday night, one of Niagara Falls’ most beloved sports figures died.
“I wasn’t expecting it, he was like a beast, he was healthy,” said Kelly’s son Patrick Jr. Monday, choking back tears. “I can’t believe it.”
“He was a boxing coach, but he was more than that. Talk to anybody and they love him. Everyone will have a story.”
Born in Delhi, Ont., Kelly moved to Niagara Falls as a child in 1942. He had a nine-year boxing career in which he fought in 55 bouts, but his biggest recognition up to that point came outside the ring: In 1958 he saved a nine-year-old boy from going over the Horseshoe Falls. It earned him the Carnegie Foundation Medal for heroism.
Turning his sights to coaching, Kelly co-founded Niagara Falls Boxing Club in 1974, and then formed the famed Shamrock Boxing Club in 1980. It was here highly-touted fighters from across the country came to become better. To become elite.
Strange, a three-time Olympic boxer and former Commonwealth Games champion, recalled entering Kelly’s Silvertown gym for the first time in 1987. He knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
“We had a wood stove in the winter we had to light up because there was no heat,” he said. “But you felt like fighting as soon as you got into that gym.
“He produced five Canadian champions at one time in that little hole. Really unheard of.”
Strange regarded Kelly as his version of Mickey (Burgess Meredith) from the Rocky movies. Between rounds, he’d often urge him on by saying “Do something, even if it’s wrong.”
Once boxing ended for Strange, his coach became a lifelong friend.
“He was a well-respected guy,” he said. “When it came to boxing he was serious, but outside the gym he just made you laugh. He was so easy-going and had such a huge heart.”
While attending one of his gyms, Mayor Jim Diodati recalled, Kelly had a unique way of welcoming people: “(He) always greeted me — and many others — the same way each time with ‘Hello my lifelong friend and companion.’
“Always a true gentleman and a great loss to our community. Not surprisingly, he went down fighting.”
Kelly was 85.
Kelly Jr. said the family will forego a funeral during the COVID-19 crisis and plan for a future celebration of his dad’s life.
“It’s going to be something big,” he said. “We’re going to wait until people can legally go and hang out together and we’ll do it then.”