Michael Kelly '79 was on the short side, with a round face, mischievous grin and glasses that slipped hopelessly askew down his nose. He was irreverent and generous and, as Susan Mercandetti '75 says, "the funniest person on the planet." At UNH, he could rouse a stadium of fans as he raced his bike across the field, climbed the goal post and then danced on the crossbar just to taunt Durham police. He could make friends choke with laughter at his impersonations. And, even as a college student, he could make readers sigh at the magic of his prose and depth of his insight. The effort he didn't pour into his studies was channeled into writing for The New Hampshire, much to the chagrin of his professors and delight of his editors, although, as Mike Minigan '78 says, "We were never quite sure when, or if, Mike's assigned story would arrive."
And so it was in the grim days following his death in Iraq on April 3 that his UNH friends and classmates joined in mourning with the scores of friends and colleagues Mike had collected on his dazzling career path in journalism. From his beginnings booking talent at "Good Morning America" to his years reporting at the Cincinnati Post and Baltimore Sun to more lofty positions at the New York Times, The New Republic, The New Yorker and finally, the venerable Atlantic Monthly, he endeared himself by working tirelessly, writing beautifully and treating everyone, from the lowliest fact checker to the most prominent of writers, with respect. Even those who fiercely opposed the often caustic conservative views he espoused in his Washington Post columns could appreciate the grace with which he wrote.
How could you not appreciate someone who took the helm of the Atlantic Monthly and in one year collected three National Magazine Awards? How could you not appreciate a freelancer who followed his fiancee, a CBS producer, to Iraq during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991 and hopped on an Egyptian tank to cover the fighting from the frontlines? Who walked solo across Iraq chronicling the effects of war and Saddam Hussein's regime, later winning national awards for his pieces in the The New Republic and his book Martyr's Day?
His return to Iraq again to cover this second war surprised no one, it seems, who knew Mike Kelly well. At 46, he was a devoted father and husband, but he also had a story to tell. When the chilling news arrived of his death in a Humvee that under enemy fire had careened into a canal, the only comfort for many of us was that Mike died as he lived: confidently and passionately.
Sue Hertz '78 is a UNH associate professor of journalism and a college friend of Kelly's. A Michael Kelly Memorial Scholarship Fund has been established. To donate, write the UNH Foundation, Inc., 9 Edgewood Rd., Durham, N.H. 03824.Return to UNH Magazine Campus Currents