Robert "Bob" Kelly, 1926-2020
Last updated 10/1/2020 at 2:59pm
Robert E. "Bob" Kelly passed away on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020 in Lakeland at the age of 93.
Bob was born in Eaton Park, FL on November 14, 1926 and grew up in Bartow. Bob was a baseball star in high school, playing for the Summerlin Institute Yellow Jackets with impressive pitching and batting records; for instance, he pitched three consecutive one-hit games, and a season in which he batted over .600. He was signed by the Pittsburg Pirates and played for the Leesburg Pirates in the Florida State League.
Bob attended Davidson College as part of the Army Specialized Training Reserve Program in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He also briefly attended Oklahoma A&M and North Georgia College.
In 1949 he married his childhood sweetheart Ann Lee, daughter of Katherine and Charlie Lee. They were married one day short of 68 years. He started his career in the fertilizer industry at the phosphate mines in Polk County. He began working for Swift and Company (later Estech/Esmark) in 1947 in time and motion studies and moved up the company ladder to eventually become the vice president of international business. His work took him around the world, to many countries including several trips to Japan. Ann was able to accompany him on some of his international travel. During this time he attended the Harvard Advanced Management Program 1974 (same class as Michael Collins, astronaut). He worked in Florida, Georgia, Maryland, and Illinois. He returned to Lakeland in 1979 where he lived for the rest of his life.
After retiring from Estech after 38 years, he continued to work in the fertilizer industry in his own businesses. He was honored to serve on the safety committee of the National Fertilizer Association. In retirement, he continued to find ways to work, including helping his friends the Petersons at Peterson Cleaners.
He valued his Christian faith and was an active member of ARP church in Bartow, where his served as an elder and as church administrator for many years. He was also an active member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Bob enjoyed many sports and especially loved golf. He attended the Masters Golf Tournament 15 consecutive years, played golf with Jack Nicklaus in a Pro Am tournament, had a handicap of 8, and was thrilled to be able to play two rounds at Augusta National. He was a personal friend of Jimmy Carter, who was a customer of Swift's Albany, GA plant, and of Billy Carter. Billy made a prank call to him one night at 1 AM pretending to be one of the salespeople Bob worked with.
He was predeceased by his parents, Jennie Munch and William Ebbin Kelly, Sr., his brothers Bill and Curt, his sister Delores Koon, and his wife Ann. He is survived by his sons Rob (Jennifer) and Mike (Margie) and five grandchildren, all of whom he loved dearly.
A graveside service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, Oct. 2 at Wildwood Cemetery in Bartow on Friday. Out of concern for the vulnerable, the family requests that guests wear masks and practice social distancing. Whidden-McLean Funeral Home in Bartow is handling arrangements.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Bartow ARP Church, P.O. Box 1411, Bartow, FL 33831.