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Liam Matthew Kelly of Dublin, NH, passed away peacefully in his 89th year on July 1, 2023. He was born in Letterkenny, County Donegal, Ireland on June 7, 1935, the son of Willie John and Kathleen (McGinley) Kelly, and the third of eight children. His character was forged around the dinner table of his home “at the foot of the town.” He grew up surrounded by families that became extensions of his own and nurtured through his service at St. Eunan’s Cathedral as an altar boy and choir member. His was a childhood of simple character but abundantly filled with “characters,” and demanding resourcefulness and initiative.
After completing his early education in Letterkenny, Liam attended St. Columban’s College at Dalgan Park in County Meath from which he received the equivalent of a B.A. in philosophy in 1957. After a short period living and working in London, he returned to Letterkenny to open a photographic studio specializing in portrait and wedding photography and providing on-call documentary photo coverage for the local news media. In 1962 he emigrated to the United States, settling first in Buffalo, New York, the home of his sponsor, and then in Boston. He undertook additional coursework at Boston College while working at its Bapst Library and received his B.A. in English in 1965. During this time, he found his mentor, Father Brendan Connolly, then Director of the Boston College Libraries, who encouraged Liam to pursue a M.S. in library science from Catholic University in Washington D.C. He did so and received his degree in 1967.
Returning to Boston Liam began his library career at Widener Library of Harvard College, where he was appointed to a position of cataloger and bibliographer with emphasis on the Celtic languages. He held subsequent positions with Inforonics, Inc. where he focused on the application of automated systems to bibliographic management, and with the New England Board of Higher Education where he fostered cooperative programs among college and university libraries throughout the region. Then in 1971 he was selected as the Assistant to the Director of the Boston Public Library, Philip J. McNiff. Thus began his 26-year tenure at the BPL during which he served as an Assistant Director, Associate Director, and twice as Acting Director. His responsibilities were expansive and touched upon every facet of the library’s operations and services within a system which included the Copley Square Research and General Libraries, 25 neighborhood branch libraries, a mobile library unit, and three remote storage facilities. He focused particularly on applying emerging computer technology to document, access and use the BPL’s renowned resources, and worked to bring significant private collections into the Research Library to afford public access. But his most significant impact came through his efforts to expand BPL’s public programming and cooperative engagements. He brought luminaries of the literary, performance and graphic arts as well as political and historical dignitaries to the BPL. As an Irish immigrant himself he became a beacon for newly arrived Irish students and visitors. Described by his peers as “a true scholar whose vision of life bequeaths of a love of learning,” Liam was a much-admired role model and mentor within the Irish community in Boston.
In 1997, Liam retired from the Boston Public Library, moving first to the eastern-most point of the north fork of Long Island, New York, and then in 2001 to the Monadnock Region of New Hampshire where he and his wife have made the town of Dublin their home for the last two decades. Despite the 61 years lived in America, Liam never lost his soft Donegal accent or his love of the music, literature, art and countryside of his native Ireland.
Liam is pre-deceased by his parents, his sisters Betty and Bridget and his brother John. He is survived by his beloved wife Lesley Loke, his sister Mary Cook, brother Michael Kelly and his wife Sheila, brother Phonsie Kelly and his wife Margaret. He is also survived by his former spouse Cynthia Dryden Kelly, their daughter Ruadh Kelly and her husband Ross Condit and daughter Elizabeth Kelly-Montgomery, and their son Liam Kelly and his wife Tal and sons Ben and Ari. Also dear to him were in-laws, nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends, both here and gone before, who enriched his life immeasurably.
Visitation will be held on Friday, July 7th from 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM at Divine Mercy Parish, 12 Church Street, Peterborough, NH. Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11:00 AM with the Rev. Michael Taylor as Celebrant. For those unable to attend, the Funeral Mass will be livestreamed and can be watched on the Divine Mercy Parish homepage. A private burial will be held at a later time.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in Liam’s name to the John J. Burns Library at Boston College at www.bc.edu/give or to the Missionary Society of St. Columban at https://columbans.ie/donate/.