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It’s 100 candles today for Capt. Kelley
Jan 21, 2013 - updated Jan 21st, 2013 8:35am
Web posted by Anna Harvey

Moorehead City, NC. --

Then and now
Left, Gardner Martin Kelley was just 17 when he became a captain. (Contributed photo) Right, Mr. Kelley celebrates his 100th birthday today. (Dylan Ray photo)
Posted: Saturday, January 19, 2013 11:55 pm
It’s 100 candles today for Capt. Kelley


MOREHEAD CITY — It was 100 years ago today Gardner Martin Kelley was born at sea, starting his long life on the water.


Now, after a century, Capt. Kelley has no problem recounting the various adventures he has had and is quick to tell you stories and recite poems. He can recall specific dates and names with ease, adding precise detail to his tales.


On the walls around him in Harborview Rehabilitation and Health Care Center are photographs, ship art and enlarged book covers that represent the books he has had published over the past several years. The books are sold at various retailers in the area and through his grandson, “Big Jim” Kelley. One of his prize photos shows him as the family patriarch of five generations.
A self-proclaimed ladies’ man, Capt. Kelley was just 18 years old when he married Vera Alley. The couple was married for 65 years and had two sons and a daughter together. She was a year older than him, and he recalls how he was required by law to have his mother’s permission to get married, since he was under the age of 21.

A ship captain by age 17, Capt. Kelley spent decades aboard various ships, yachts and steamships. He spent years repairing and running various boats and was also the captain of the Big Bad John, which was the boat of country singer and television host Jimmy Dean.
During World War II, he worked as a rigger at the Boston Navy Yard. He later was granted release from the Navy Yard and went on to build ships at a Liberty shipyard in South Portland, Maine.
“So you see, I’ve been busy,” said Capt. Kelley with a smile, as he recounted many of his life adventures on both land and sea. “I’ve had a wonderful life.”
The captain lived in various locations along the East Coast, from Maine to Massachusetts, North Carolina to Florida. He spent a number of years living on Harkers Island. Together with his wife, he moved to a retirement home in Sebring, Fla., where he did most of his writing. A few years later his wife died, and he relocated to Newport to be near his son.

During all his various moves and jobs he tried to retire three times, he said. He explained when he was in school, he was told that his lifespan would be 65-70 years old, so that he wanted to enjoy life to fullest before then. He would retire, then go back to work shortly after.
Capt. Kelley has been a resident at Harborview since April 2012, where his room overlooks the Morehead City waterfront. Until last year, he was taking care of himself and still able to drive himself around, according to his grandson.
Capt. Kelley was practicing for the Carteret County Senior Olympics when he became a bit too eager in his shot put throws. He fell, resulting in a broken hip and surgery. Although he is able to stand again, he now requires a wheelchair or walker to get around due to some balance problems. Beyond that, Capt. Kelley seems to be in better health than some people half his age.
Capt. Kelley is the first in his family to reach this milestone birthday and credits three key points to his longevity. He said never smoking or drinking in his lifetime was the best decision he ever made. He also claims that staying away from doctors and medicine has increased his lifespan. “Until five years ago, I bet I never took more than a dozen aspirin in my lifetime,” he said.

Contact Anna Harvey at 252-726-7081, ext. 227; email anna@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @annaccnt.



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