John Kelley Obituary

John  Joseph
John Joseph "JJ" Kelley

September 13, 1929 - May 16, 2020
Born in Waterbury, CT
Resided in East Lyme, Connecticut


John Joseph “JJ” Kelley peacefully passed and returned to be with his Heavenly Father on May 16, 2020. He lived a remarkable life of 90+ years, much of it as a loving and caring husband, father and grandfather. John is survived by his wife Catherine; children Michael Kelley of Waitsfield, VT, John Kelley, Jr. of Pawcatuck, CT, Christopher Kelley and his partner Ruth Marti of East Lyme, CT, Karen Kelley of East Lyme; and grandchildren Zoe and Julia Kahl and John, Kara and Maxwell Kelley. He also leaves behind his loving sister Arlene (Kelley) Kolankiewicz of State College, PA.
John was born in Waterbury, CT on September 13, 1929 to the late Ruth and John “Chick” Kelley. He attended the Gunnery prep school in Washington, CT where he excelled in school and starred in baseball, hockey and football as the legendary fullback nicknamed “Mad Jack”. After completing his studies at Gunnery in 1948 he attended and graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY and subsequently served two years in the U.S. Navy, which included being on active duty in the Korean Theater during 1952-53. He then served an additional two years in the Merchant Marines traveling to many parts of the world to serve the national security, marine transportation, and economic needs of the United States during times of both peace and war.
The Merchant Marine Academy and tour of service in the Navy prepared John for his second career in the submarine shipbuilding industry at General Dynamics, Electric Boat Division in Groton, CT where he ascended to the position of Director of Nuclear Quality Control, leading his people and the department with a high-degree of integrity, intelligence, dedication, and competence. Beyond his impressive professional accomplishments during his 33-year career with the company ending in 1988, JJ became a larger-than-life and iconic figure at Electric Boat and left an indelible impression on everyone he met. His storied career became folklore for a generation of people, some who to this day speak fondly of their work experiences with JJ (even if those experiences were sometime less than pleasant!).
Although extremely driven and serious about his work life and job responsibilities, his family and faith were what was most important to John. He married the love of his life Catherine “Kitty” Chifriller in Seymour, CT in 1956 and they enjoyed being together for almost 65 years. As a dedicated family man John rarely missed being with his wife and children for dinner every night and prioritized his time to help Michael, John, Christopher and Karen with their schoolwork, as well as to guide/encourage them to pursue their life interests and aspirations. His coaching extended outside of home to the ballfields where he coached his sons’ Little League and Babe Ruth baseball teams for more than 10 years and attended every High School and American Legion game just to be there and show support. He was both strong and firm as well as caring and loving in raising his family.
John was a parishioner of St. Matthias Church in East Lyme, CT and until this year regularly attended mass in the front row every Sunday morning. He was actively involved in various church related activities and projects, including coordinating the Annual Catholic Appeal, serving on the Finance Board, and leading efforts with church leaders and other parishioners that culminated in the building of a new church in 1998 for the St. Matthias parish. During his retirement years, he became well known and loved by those who attended daily mass with him at St. Matthias or other local catholic churches where he was often asked to be an alter server. John always found great joy in serving God and his family and friends.
John leaves a lasting legacy that will never be forgotten by his family and many friends and acquaintances who will continue to fondly remember his quick wit and devilish charm and spirit. Although he never smoked or had a drink in his life, John was often the center of attention and principal troublemaker when celebrating the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with his immediate and extended family. He was both a character and a man of great character. A well-accomplished man from the greatest generation who lived a humble life following the Lord and selflessly put the needs of others before his own. God truly broke the mold when he made John Joseph Kelley. Well done, good and faithful servant and Godspeed until we are with you again.
His family thanks John’s personal care physician as well as the health professionals at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London for their wonderful care, patience and kindness for John during his brief stay. We are quite certain he made you work hard.
Due to current conditions, funeral and mass services were privately held at Thomas L. Neilan & Sons Funeral Home in Niantic and St. Matthias Church. Online condolences may be shared with John’s family at To honor John’s memory, donations may be made in his name to the Saint Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen, 120 Cliff Street, Norwich CT 06360.




Mass of Christian Burial

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