Obituary: Tim Kelly, retired publisher and editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader

Visitation scheduled for Monday, May 10. In lieu of flowers, donations are suggested to the YMCA of Central Kentucky or by supporting your local newspaper.

Retired Lexington Herald-Leader publisher and editor Timothy M. (Tim) Kelly died Monday, May 3 in Lexington following a recent cancer diagnosis. He was 73.

Kelly was born Nov. 28, 1947 in Ashland, Kentucky, the son of the late Pauline and Robert J. Kelly Sr., and was a 1965 graduate of Ashland Holy Family High School. He also was predeceased by his brother, Robert J. Kelly Jr., of Kansas City, Missouri.

He is survived by his childhood sweetheart and wife of 51 years, Carol (Knight) Kelly, daughter Kimberly Kelly, son Kevin (Brenna) Kelly and three cherished grandsons – Patrick, to whom he was Dad-Dad, and Carson and Parker, to whom he was Peepaw, which started out as a joke but stuck, much to his chagrin.

He served on approximately two dozen local and state boards and committees. He co-chaired the police and fire pension task force commissioned by then-Mayor Jim Gray and co-chaired the Downtown Master Plan Citizens Advisory Committee under then-Mayor Teresa Isaac.

He was chair of the Metro Board of the YMCA of Central Kentucky; twice vice chair/communications of the Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce (now Commerce Lexington), chair of the John S. and Samuel L. Knight Foundation Community Advisory Committee, and a charter member of the Lexington Area Sports Authority, which he later chaired.

He co-chaired three capital campaigns. All involved Keeneland’s Ted Bassett and were among his favorite civic experiences. One built the Beaumont and North Lexington YMCAs and refurbished the High Street Y. The others were to build a new Kentucky Blood Center and to Save the Calumet Trophies at the Kentucky Horse Park.

Kelly served a six-year term on the national board of AARP, which also included two years on the board of the AARP Foundation, and served 10 years on the national board of the YMCA of the USA where he co-chaired a task force that produced the first national repositioning and rebranding of the YMCA in 43 years.

Kelly began a 46-year newspaper career as a 17-year-old part-time sports writer taking ball scores over the phone. He worked his way through Ashland Community College, Marshall University and the University of Miami in the sports departments of the Ashland Daily Independent, the Huntington (W.Va.) Herald-Dispatch and The Miami Herald. He graduated with honors from the UM in January 1970.

Following graduation, he and his new wife returned to Kentucky where he worked for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal. A year later, he was asked to join The Philadelphia Inquirer soon after its purchase by then Knight Newspapers, which also owned The Miami Herald. He was assistant executive sports editor at age 23 and became executive sports editor of the Inquirer at 25, one of the youngest sports editors ever of a major metropolitan paper.

Seeking to transition from sports into news, in 1975 he followed his boss to the Dallas Times Herald where he served in a series of editing roles, eventually becoming deputy managing editor. When the Times Herald’s parent company, Los Angeles-based Times Mirror, purchased The Denver Post in 1981, he again followed his boss, this time serving for three years as managing editor.

In Philadelphia, Dallas and Denver, he was involved in three of the last great big-city newspaper wars involving competing papers.

In 1984, he was recruited by the Tribune Company of Chicago to become editor of the Daily News of Los Angeles. It turned into one of the most colorful chapters of his career. Within a year and a half, the Daily News was sold to billionaire Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Washington Football Team and former owner of the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Kings. Kelly reported directly to Cooke until leaving to become managing editor of The Orange County Register, then the third largest paper in California.

Throughout all those moves, his ultimate goal was to come home to Kentucky and, specifically Lexington, where Knight Ridder owned the Herald-Leader. That opportunity came in 1989 after he approached legendary editor John Carroll at a newspaper convention. Carroll hired him as his executive editor, the No. 2 position in the newsroom. When Carroll left to become editor of The Baltimore Sun in 1991, Kelly was promoted to editor. And in 1996, when Lewis Owens was forced to retire due to health reasons, Kelly became president and publisher, the position he held for 15 years until he retired in 2011.

Members of his staffs in Denver, Orange County and Lexington won a total of four Pulitzer Prizes during his tenures.

Following his retirement, he became a consultant with Youngs, Walker & Company of Chicago, a long-established executive search firm for the newspaper industry.

Advancing diversity and employees’ careers were a consistent goal of his managerial style. At the Herald-Leader, he named the first female editors, managing editor and editorial page editor. For the first time, minorities became part of the newspaper’s executive committee as Vice President/Advertising, Vice President/Circulation and editorial page editor.

Among his proudest recognitions were the Ida B. Wells Award for diversity achievements in the news industry; two Knight Ridder Excellence Awards – for community service and for identifying and developing future leaders of the company; two Red Triangle Awards from the YMCA of Central Kentucky as Volunteer of the Year; the Lewis Owens Award for Community Service from the Kentucky Press Association, and the White Ribbon award from Kentucky First Lady Judy Patton “recognizing men helping end violence against women.”

He was twice a juror of the Pulitzer Prizes and numerous other journalism competitions, a charter member of Associated Press Sports Editors and later a member of Associated Press Managing Editors, Newspaper Features Council and the American Society of Newspaper Editors. He was named to the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame in 2000.

In lieu of flowers, donations are suggested to the YMCA of Central Kentucky or by supporting your local newspaper.

Visitation for Kelly will be from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. (EDT) on Monday, May 10 at Milward – Man O’War located at 1509 Trent Boulevard in Lexington. Plans are not yet finalized for a memorial Mass at the Catholic Newman Center/Holy Spirit Parish in Lexington followed by a private interment in Ashland, Kentucky.

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