In Memoriam

Ten Years Gone: Remembering Paul Kelley

TEN YEARS AGO, on December 29, 2003, my father died in a hospice in Providence, RI only a few blocks away from where he attended high school and college. A few days later, I delivered one of his eulogies at the Assumption Church in Providence which is set forth below along with some photo galleries. Below that is my father’s obituary and a Providence Journal article published after his 25th anniversary with the Public Defender’s Office.


On behalf of my family . . .

I would like to thank each of you for your comfort and prayers these past few days. We found strength in the many stories you shared about my father and how he touched you in his own way.

I particularly would like to thank Senator Reed, Congressman Kennedy, Congressman Langevin, Attorney General Lynch, Judge Darrigan and Public Defender Hardiman among others who have paid tribute to my father with their presence and in words. This has meant a great deal to my family and we take great comfort from the respect you have shown my father.

I also want to assure each of the elected officials that my father will vote the right way in November.

Paul Kelley was a man of many talents.  He was:

  • a gifted student
  • a patriot who flew 27 missions over Germany in World War II;
  • an outstanding trial lawyer who tried more cases than any other lawyer in Rhode Island history and was known as “the Dean” by opposing lawyers.
  • a dedicated public servant who served as Assistant Public Defender for 29 years;
  • a community activist who faithfully served this parish, the local VFW and Boy Scouts and also was dedicated to the cause of ensuring affordable housing and opportunity for those in this community and for that a building now bears his name;
  • an Irishman who loved to tell a story to anyone who would listen; and
  • Most importantly, he was a husband for 54 years, a father of 7 and grandfather of 6.

I will most remember my father . . .

  • not for his many honors,
  • not as legend or St Paul as some called him
  • or as the last of what has been called our greatest generation.

Instead, I will remember him for the simple man he was and for the choices he made.

When I was 7 or 8, one Friday night my father took me with him to visit an emotionally disturbed client. She was upset and started throwing plates in our direction. We left and returned home. Later that evening, the woman called and apologized. My father asked me if I wanted to come with him on his second visit. While my father chose compassion and forgiveness, I chose the comforts of home and TV.

  • When people had a problem, Paul Kelley chose to listen and provide comfort.
  • When the people who fell through society’s safety net showed up at his door at all hours, Paul Kelley chose to help them stand again.
  • When faced with convicts and men and women charged with serious crimes, Paul Kelley chose to see them as a child of God who had lost their way.
  • When this community drifted into poverty and despair, with block after block of abandoned homes, Paul Kelley chose hope and dedication to a better day.

Again, my family thanks . . .

each of you for your kindness and support over these many years.

We ask that you keep us in your prayers during this sad time and that you remember Paul Kelley for the man he was.

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ProJo Feature on Retirement

Paul Kelley finds lots of good to defend among us

By Mark Patinkin

Thursday, November 10, 1983 Page A-3

Public defenders aren’t supposed to last long. The pay is mediocre, the hours difficult and you can only spend so many years representing indigent B&E artists. Well, indigent alleged B&E artists. Most public defenders leave for private practice by the time they’re 35, usually younger.

THAT’S WHY I wanted to talk with Paul Kelley. Last week, he marked his 25th year as a public defender. He is now 60. That’s a point where more successful attorneys are enjoying big salaries, big offices, big prestige. Kelley is still representing indigent alleged B&E artists. He works out of a small room in the Superior Court building. There are no diplomas on the wall. The furniture is 1940s institutional and the file drawers are made of cardboard. I asked how much he makes. He had to look it up. “The base is $32,000,” he said. “But I make 38 with longevity.” I asked how he’s managed to last so long. He smiled and said it was simple: He likes the job.

AS WE TALKED, I kept thinking how I’d expected him to look different. I figured anyone who’d spent this many years working face to face with crime would have the same kind of hard-bitten cynicism you find in older policemen. If anything, he is the opposite. He talks often about his faith in people and that bad cliché about twinkling Irish eyes really applies in this case. Criminal lawyers have been a common enough target lately, often called the hired guns of our time. I wanted to know if he is ever asked the obvious question: How can he defend those people? “Well,” he said, “a police officer once asked me how can I got church and defend that guy? Lo and behold, he turned out to be innocent.”I asked if the relatives of victims ever approach him during a trial. I imagined how the parents of a rape victim must feel about the man defending the accused rapist. “Gee,” said Kelley, “they’ve always been polite with me. They don’t even take it out on the lawyer at all. I’ve even had them say, “I know you’re just doing your job, Mr. Kelley.”

I TOLD HIM that if I had his job, I’d probably be worn down pretty quickly by the more hardcore defendants. He said many people see it that way, but the reality is different. “A lot of robbery cases for example,” said Kelley, “are first offenders who were despondent.” Still, I said, how long can you stand by those who prefer to make it by ripping off others? “It’s really not like you think,” said Kelley. “Years ago , I remember I kept a record of my cases. And at one point, 30 or 40 in a row came from broken homes. In many cases, when the jurors came in with a guilty verdict, they’ve got tears in their eyes.”

HE EXPLAINED that public defenders rarely have clients who are getting fat off crime. They’re usually just desperate souls. Few of those who burglarize homes get much money out of it he said. I told him many would say however much a criminal steals, if he breaks into a home, he is an animal. “I don’t think they’re animals,” said Kelley. “I’m not saying that a man who does that is right. It’s wrong. And he should be punished. But the man’s not an animal. There’s some good in everybody.” I asked about defending those he suspected might be guilty. “Well,” said Kelley, “if you were accused and you were innocent, you wouldn’t want your lawyer wondering whether or not you were worth defending.” It’s a fine system, he said, and it could not survive if lawyers on both sides did not perform their roles. I’d already taken an hour of his day, I jumped to my last few questions. What would you say to a young public defender just starting? What is the key to lasting 25 years? Idealism, mostly?

HE SAID, IDEALISM is only a small part of it. Mostly, it was being dedicated to hard work. “You often have to go visit clients in jail on nights and weekends,’ he said. “Sometimes I’d take my kids with me. They’d say “We’re going to daddy’s jail.’” I put down the question list then and came back to what first intrigued me about him. How, after 25 years dealing daily with people charged with murder, rape and robbery, could he not be a little jaded about human nature? “They all have good points,” said Kelley. He told me of the guy who’d won the Purple Heart, and the good father, and others and others and others. The courts, he said, are not full of evil people; they’re full of just people led toward bad by an outside influence: liquor, trauma, desperation. Most, he said, will pay for what they’ve done, but all have a right to an advocate who will ensure they get as good a chance as they can.

I LEFT THINKING that Paul Kelley has more faith in human nature than I could ever have. Like many others, I’d often like to just throw away the key. But it has been said that the measure of a nation’s civility is how well it takes care of its difficult cases. Kelley helps take care of ours. I think most of us are grateful there are hard-working idealist like him who will.


Post Script: Kelley retired from the Rhode Island Public Defenders Office in 1983 and was its charter inductee into the RIPD Hall of Fame. Kelley also was active in his West Elmwood Providence neighborhood and both a wing of a community center and housing units for families affected by AIDS have been named in his honor. Kelley died on December 29, 2003 due to complications from Alzheimers.


Paul E. Kelley Paul E. Kelley, 80, of Providence, R.I., died Dec. 29 after a series of small strokes.

  • For 29 years, he served as an assistant public defender for the state of Rhode Island, where he was a well-known figure in the defense bar, and active in politics, church and civic affairs.
  • Born in Cranston, R.I., Mr. Kelley was one of eight children of the late Levi M. and Winifred Palmer Kelley.
  • He was a graduate of La Salle Academy, Providence College and Boston University Law School.
  • He was an Army Air Forces officer in World War II, serving as a navigator on a B-17 bomber where he completed 27 missions over Germany in 1945 and was awarded the Air Medal and three oak clusters.
  • Mr. Kelley started with the public defender’s office in 1958, rising to the post of chief assistant, and after retiring in 1987, he maintained a private practice until 2001. He was a member of the Public Defenders Hall of Fame.
  • At the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Providence, R.I., where he was a communicant for more than 50 years, he served on numerous committees, including as a trustee of the church and the chairman of the Catholic Charities drive. He was a member of the Knights of Columbus, past commander and adjutant of S.S. Payne Post VFW, and the Providence Friendly Sons of St. Patrick.
  • He was a chairman of the West End Advisory Committee in Providence, and past president and member of the board of directors of the West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation, which named a building in his honor. He served as a leader in the Boy Scouts of America for 18 years and was scoutmaster and committeeman of Troop 78 and Explorers Unit 398 in Providence.
  • Survivors include his wife of 54 years, Anna T. Doyle Kelley; daughter and son-in-law, Maureen Kelley and Len Lazarick of Columbia; sons, Paul E. Kelley Jr. of Providence, R.I., Gerard V. Kelley of Derby, Conn., Kevin J. Kelley, Mathew P. Kelley of Wallingford, Conn. and Bennet G. Kelley of Santa Monica, Calif; daughter, Judith M. Faraone of Cranston, R.I.; sisters, Marie C. Kelley and Winifred A. Kelley; brother, Francis X. Kelley; and six grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his brothers, the Rev. Joseph Bennet Kelley, Thomas A. Kelley, John P. Kelley and Arthur V. Kelley.
  • Funeral services were Jan. 2 with a Mass of Christian Burial in the Assumption Church in Providence.



2 thoughts on “Ten Years Gone: Remembering Paul Kelley

  1. Pingback: 2013 in Review | BGK Blog

  2. Pingback: 10 Years Gone: Anna Kelley and the Day I Became an Orphan | BGK Blog

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