Remembering John E. Kelly, 1921-2021

Family and friends are remembering John E. Kelly and sharing this with his community:

John Edward Kelly

John E. Kelly set sail peacefully on a Heaven-bound adventure February 20, 2021, age 99. He was born June 7, 1921 to John and Eileen Kelly in their West Seattle home.

Growing up, he enjoyed many hours on the beaches and waters of Puget Sound. He joined the Sea Scouts as a youth, expanding his skills in sailing and vessel operations.

He graduated from West Seattle High School in 1939, then trained in boat building. He joined the Army in 1943, serving aboard the Hains, an Army Corps of Engineers ship, in the Pacific Theater. His early maritime experience served him well.

After WW II, he married Elizabeth Hamilton, with whom he raised four children and built their first house. He studied at the University of Washington and moved into professional life as a naval architect/marine engineer, retiring after 33 years at MARCO Seattle Shipyard. After Elizabeth’s death he married Jackie Carey, who joined him in a busy retirement, traveling and staying involved with family and many community interests.

Those interests included active membership in the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society, Southwest Seattle Historical Society, West Seattle Lions Club, local museums, and Sea Scouts, where he volunteered with the SSS Yankee Clipper and area scouting for more than 80 years. His passion for history also included family genealogy, and in his last years, he enjoyed organizing material on the Kenney Home where he lived.

He was a member of West Side Presbyterian Church for 75 years and lived out his Christian faith through thousands of small choices that added up to a life highly respected by family and friends. His children lovingly remember him as a moral, giving, and gentle man who they never heard say a harsh word or speak ill of anyone.

He is survived by his children Gaile Walsh (Jim), Bob, and Tim (Janis); grandchildren Candace, Tara, Sean, Ryan, Stephen, and Victoria; two great-grandchildren; his brother David (Jeanne); 11 nieces and nephews; and extended family. He was preceded in death by wife Elizabeth, son Bill, and wife Jackie.

Memorial donations are suggested to The Kenney Foundation Resident Care Fund or any of the organizations he enjoyed so much.

Share memories of John with his family on the Tribute Page at

Arrangements Entrusted to Emmick Family Funeral Home of West Seattle

(WSB publishes West Seattle obituaries by request, free of charge. Please email the text, and a photo if available, to

7 Replies to "Remembering John E. Kelly, 1921-2021"

  • MS March 2, 2021 (9:33 am)

    So sorry for your loss

  • Clay Eals March 2, 2021 (10:30 am)

    Thanks for publishing this tribute to John. I am grateful to say that we were good friends for nearly 38 years, back to when the eastbound lanes of the high-level West Seattle Bridge opened in November 1983. It was a relationship built on mutual interest in West Seattle history and newspapering (his first wife, Elizabeth, was the daughter of Rupert Hamilton, founder of the West Seattle Herald) as well as on mutual trust and respect.

    To know John was to slow down from the hubbub and appreciate the warmth of conversation and the precision of what is communicated. I had many occasions to draw upon John’s expertise and advice in my various roles with the Herald and the Southwest Seattle Historical Society over the decades.

    One of his enduring contributions, with his second wife, Jackie, was to initiate and complete something that in our one-year push to publication of the 1987 “West Side Story” history book I failed to accomplish — a proper-noun index. Their dogged, week-by-week quest at the Log House Museum to execute the task more than a decade later exemplified his integrity and generosity.

    I’m attaching two more illustrations. The first is a photo of John being interviewed on July 2, 2013, by KUOW-FM reporter Joshua McNichols next to the Statue of Liberty replica on Alki. The second is an article and photo from the summer 2015 edition of the historical society’s Footprints newsletter, reporting on the Medal of Merit that John received on May 6, 2015, from the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society.

    What a long, influential and heartfelt life John lived. He was one of the good guys.

  • Frank Immel March 2, 2021 (11:07 am)

    I knew John through Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society. He was a man of true honor, always willing to share his time, his vast knowledge of boatbuilding, and naval architecture and stories of his adventures at sea. His years at Marco certainly made commercial fishing safer and more productive. There are few of us that can walk in his shoes. He will be greatly missed.

  • Mj March 2, 2021 (11:20 am)

    RIP – the WWII veterans are passing us by, growing up in the 60’s and 70’s I remember the strong connection with these hero’s!

  • Junction Lady March 2, 2021 (7:01 pm)

    Wow!  99+  He led an extraordinary life.  May he rest in peace.

  • Jim March 2, 2021 (8:06 pm)

    I worked with John on many events in West Seattle and with events that included the Yankee Clipper.  I also worked with John at Marco for many years. The owner of the shipyard would always provide the haul out for the Clipper’s annual servicing,  and it was always a pleasure working with him and the Sea Scouts.

  • Chuck Fowler March 3, 2021 (2:45 pm)

    John Kelly was a quiet, unassuming Pacific Northwest maritime legend, who lived to be a highly-respected “Ancient Mariner” in the best sense of the description.  I knew John as a valued, longtime colleague and member of the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society.  But in his active, extended  retirement, he was also a  wonderful volunteer who, in 1986, together with his Sea Scout crew,  joined the Washington Ships Flotilla and in Yankee Clipper sailed to Vancouver, B.C. to participate in the EXPO 86 Worlds Fair.   It was typical of John to help proudly represent the State of Washington, and also provide a memorable maritime heritage experience for his young trainee crew members.   He will be missed but his memory will continue in so many wonderful ways.  

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