Larry Kelley's funeral was held in the chapel at Peddie. His grandnephew Devin Inns-keep spoke movingly about how involved "Uncle Larry" was in the sporting and academic lives of his young relatives, the grandchildren of Ruth's siblings. But the funeral was wrenching for Ruth Becker Kelley. Her husband had died a violent death. He knew she would be the one to find the body, and what that intimated was more than she could allow herself to consider.
No one from the community of Heisman winners attended the funeral. Glenn Davis, the Army back who won the trophy in 1946, attended the wake. "It made me realize that we're in the fourth quarter of the game, the last five minutes, that death is going to happen to us all," Davis said later. Kelley's friendships with other Heisman winners were among the most enduring relationships in his life, although he saw the others only a few times a year, if that. "I have to think he did it for his wife," Davis concluded, believing as many did that Kelley didn't want to be a burden to her.
Ruth Kelley knows such thinking is well-intentioned, but deep down, she knows it's not true. The day she found her husband's body, her life as she knew it was over.
Most former Heisman winners believe Kelley was about the least likely member of their elite fraternity to take his own life. For years he had been the life of the party, but as those years turned into decades, he changed. First Kelly quit smoking. Then he quit drinking. Later he gave up his unofficial role as social secretary to his Heisman brothers.
Jay Berwanger had a 64-year friendship with Kelley, and he was not totally surprised when he heard about the nature of Kelley's death. "Larry Kelley was one to make up his mind on something and do it," says Berwanger, 86, who won the first Downtown Athletic Club football trophy, as a University of Chicago running back in 1935, when John Heisman was still alive and the award went to the best player east of the Mississippi. "I was with him a few weeks before he died, signing autographs at a card show. We had lunch. He talked and reminisced. He left early. He was a little tired from signing all those autographs. He didn't have a lot of enthusiasm, like he usually did. I thought he had been in pain for years. But he never said anything about it."
Maybe Larry Kelley was becoming withdrawn. Maybe he was showing signs of depression. Nobody could have known. He hid everything so well.
A punctured eardrum kept Kelley out of World War II, and that was, friends said, a disappointment to him. Wanting to be involved in the war effort, he left Peddie in 1942, just as his first marriage was ending, and took a job with a military aeronautical supplier. In 1946, Kelley, at age 30, married again. According to his relatives he liked being married, even though he was uncommunicative. He didn't need to take care of somebody. He needed somebody to take care of him.
His second wife had been his secretary: Anne Goodwin, a 31-year-old divorc�e with a young son. That same year, 1946, the Kelleys moved to upstate New York, where Larry began a 12-year career in glove manufacturing. It was not the most ambitious job he could have taken in the robust postwar economy, but it came easily to him, through a Yale connection, and it let him relive his glory years. An old acquaintance from the glove business remembers, more than 50 years later, the attention that the Daniel Hays Co. of Gloversville, N.Y., received because Larry Kelley, the Heisman winner, was on its payroll. In 1953, he took a job as an executive with another upstate glove manufacturer. When that company went out of business, in 1958, he was again looking for a fresh start. He had had enough of the business world and the office politics that came with it.
He returned to the cloistered world of boys' boarding schools, becoming a math teacher and alumni director at Cheshire Academy, in Cheshire, Conn., just 15 miles from the Yale Bowl. Often in his life he would return to the glories of his youth, to the old stadiums, old schools, old stationery, old girlfriends. His second marriage was not a long one. Some years after it ended, his third began.
Wife No. 3 was Lovdie Augusta Welsh. She and Kelley had dated in the mid-1930s, hadn't talked to each other for a quarter century, then married on July 22,1961. One relative says Kelley married the first time for glamour, the second time for practicality and the third time for love. Lovdie waited a long time for the only wedding day of her life. "When Larry was at Yale, we sort of had this agreement, that we would get married," Lovdie said recently.