The Irish Person of the Year (IPOY), is the Irish American Society’s annual award to one of its outstanding members. The award recognizes the recipient’s commitment to the promotion of the social and cultural goals not only of the Irish American Society but also of those of other Irish organizations in the area.
Tom Kelly was born in Kiltimiagh, County Mayo, Ireland in 1937. The fifth children, Tom’s father died when he was six years of age. Tom the United States in 1958, settled in Jersey City, NJ and immediately became involved in Irish activities. He was a charter member of the n Irish American Association in Bergen County, NJ. He played Gaelic Football with the Elizabeth Gaels and Mayo Football Club in New York. Handball, however, was his first love and he was well known for his handball skills in the mid-Atlantic area. He was a regular mem-ber of the New York-New Jersey Handball league.
Back in the late Fifties, long before the Celtic Tiger made its appear-Tom Kelly said “Goodbye” to the Land of the shamrock and heather and headed for the U. S.A. He had a sister and brother already there and many of his friends and acquaintances from around Kiltimagh were there too. They were all a part of the great exodus of the 50’s and saw emigration as their destiny. One thing that was taken for granted by most young people who were growing up in the Ireland of the Fifties was that they were going to emigrate to England, Australia, America or Canada. Plenty of neighbors and relatives were there already.
Soon after arriving in the United States, Tom decided to get a high school education to expand his opportunities. He enrolled in Dickinson High School in Jersey City and after four years of night school he graduated valedictorian of his class. He received a scholarship to Pace University in New York and after four more years of night school he graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration with a Major in Accounting.
In 1960, Tom took an entry-level job in the New York office of Republic Financial Services-a Dallas based nationwide insurance company. Twenty years later after many promotions, he was elected Vice President. He retired in 1994.
In 1975, he was offered the opportunity to move to Dallas to head up the company’s centralized computer department. In July of that year, with temperatures of 100 degrees, Tom and his family arrived in Dallas from New Jersey. Their intention was to try it for two years and then return to the familiar roots of the New York metropolitan area. His wife, the former Eileen Murphy from Camp, Co. Kerry, felt that moving from the Bronx to New Jersey in 1966, when they married, was all the moving she wanted to do, unless it was to return to her native Kerry . Moving to a God-forsaken place like Texas did not appeal to her. For her, moving to Texas was much more difficult than moving from Kerry to the Bronx. ‘Mere was no active Irish organization in Dallas at that time, and only one Irish pub, which was the center of the limited Irish community.
However, when the two years were up, the Kelly; but the pace was slower and rare relaxing and Richardson, where they lived, had the amenities of a big city with a small town atmosphere. Coincidental with their arrival in Dallas, a group of Irish Americans came together to form the Friendly Son And Daughters of St. Patrick which was the forerunner of The Irish American Society. The Kelly’s joined immediately and that was the beginning of a long association.
Since arriving in Dallas, Tom and his wife have been staunch supporters of all Irish activities. When asked to volunteer, they always say “Yes”. He and his wife, Eileen, have served in many offices of the IAS, including President in 1991-92, Membership, Newsletter, Ball Chair and others.
The Kelly; a sister Mary O’Donnell in Philadelphia; a brother Pat in Bayonne, N..J.; and a brother Father Richard in Paraguay. Sister Kathleen Walsh and Rosaleen Smith live in Ireland, while another sister Teresa Forde lives in London, U.K.
It is with great pleasure that The Irish American Society of Dallas, Texas presents Thomas J. Kelly, as the IAS Irish Person of the Year 1999.