Keith “D” Kelley passed away Sunday, November 8th, at the Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, NC. His final minutes and days concluded quietly in the presence of his children and North Carolina family just six days prior to his 84th birthday.
Keith was born in Monroe, Michigan, as the second of two children of Donald and Ardinelle Kelley. His family relocated to Norwalk, Ohio, where he grew up and later graduated from Norwalk High School in 1954. He began his college education at the University of Toledo with an interest in engineering, and then transferred to Kent State University to complete a Bachelors of Architecture degree in the spring of 1960. During his matriculation, Keith met Sandra Irene Gerritsen on a blind date. Sandra became his wife of more than 58 years until her own death in 2019.
Keith joined the United States Navy in 1960, leveraging his college degree for entry in that service’s Officer Candidate School, completing the training program at the conclusion of that year as a commissioned Ensign. He elected training as an underwater swimmer toward become a Commanding Officer in the Navy’s Explosive Ordinance Disposal facility based in Indian Head, Maryland. He applied his SCUBA and hardhat divers training to locate, evaluate, and neutralize common types of explosive ordinance both below and above water. His military service, and his training in underwater activities, would be a source of many stories he shared with friends and family, as well as with fellow service men he met throughout his life. He received his honorable discharge from the Navy in 1964 with the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade shortly after the birth of his first child.
Following his naval service, Keith’s career began as a draftsman for an architectural firm in Milwaukee, WI, during which time he prepared for and earned his architectural board certification. He left Milwaukee for Salisbury, MD, where he joined the local firm of George, Miles, and Burr and practiced for more than six years. He left the firm to join the State of Maryland’s Department of General Services, managing the design and constructability review of a range of state owned and funded projects and buildings. His project breadth included the redevelopment and expansion of the Baltimore-Washington International Airport and new and renovated department buildings and dormitories at Maryland’s various state colleges and universities, including the state’s flagship university in College Park. His most challenging and rewarding project involved the Maryland State House in Annapolis, when he was tasked with merging modern construction and design performance standards with historical accuracy and authenticity of the oldest state capitol in continuous use in the United States and featuring the largest dome ever constructed without the use of nails in the United States.
Keith left the State to join the Baltimore County, MD, school system as a public school projects coordinator and reviewer. Until he left employment with the county, he oversaw both design standards and construction cost management for hundreds of projects during a period of public school renovation and new construction when county population grew and modern concepts for effective and efficient learning spaces emerged and evolved.
In 1996, he left Baltimore County and relocated with Sandra to Pine Knoll Shores, NC, where he continued the practice of new and forensic review of designs for institutional projects across the country, including airports, government buildings, and universities. He also continued in private practice, designing homes and drawing up residential renovations and expansions to meet the construction standards unique to Coastal Carolina created by regular hurricane strikes. Despite designing homes in Maryland, Delaware and North Carolina in private practice, he never designed a home for his own enjoyment with Sandra.
Keith embodied the discipline of servant leadership, putting first the career development and personal interests of those he managed and mentored. As a working professional, he was an outstanding listener, cognizant of the support needs of his teams, and made a consistent effort to get to know everyone who worked for him on a personal level, regardless of title or responsibilities. His personal disciplines and approachability through most of his life earned him friendship and respect from peers and subordinates. These traits also helped him forge bonds with neighbors and business owners in his final years in Pine Knoll Shores.
He was also a regular volunteer for youth activities, beginning with coaching a youth baseball team during his naval service and eventually encompassing Little League baseball, youth soccer, swim team, Cub Scouts, a local Maryland winery, and the Washington (DC) Ballet company. Most recently, Keith was a volunteer at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and continued to participate in the spousal support group he joined during his wife’s last illness. Until his death, he continued to find opportunities to share his formal and informal education and personal passions with others in his community.
Keith enjoyed all water sports and regained his SCUBA certification in the early 1980’s and encouraged Sandra to earn hers as well. They enjoyed warm-water diving and developed a particular fondness for diving in the azure waters of Cozumel, Mexico, reveling in the abundant and diverse aquatic life of the locale. He and Sandra were avid travelers later in life, making visits to England, Spain, France, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands where their daughter lived and performed in the national ballet company for the better part of a decade. He enjoyed reading and carried a passion for history, military history, and the Civil War. He also enjoyed live music and traveled to attend regional festivals of jazz and blues music. He was never without a home improvement project, taking pride in problem-solving skills and familiarity with tools attained in part from having helped to build his parents’ house in Norwalk, OH. For him, any job worth doing was a job worth doing well. None of his interests better embodied this mantra than his carvings and displays of shore birds for personal enrichment and competitive judging locally. As a member of the International Wildfowl Carvers Association (IWCA), he produced an array of hand-carved and meticulously painted and displayed birds that won awards and garnered praise from his carving peers. His late-in-life carving passion earned him Decorative Carver of the Year in his class in 2015. Keith was also proud of having attained his Eagle Scout rank in the Boy Scouts of America.
Keith is survived by his son, Keith Gregory, with grandsons Ian Gregory and Nolan Patrick who live in Sammamish, WA, and by his daughter, Jennifer Lynn, with granddaughter Uma Knaven, who live in Chapel Hill, NC. Richard D Kelley, his only sibling, also survives him in Dover, OH.
His passing leaves a hole in the hearts of all who knew him well. Surviving family will quietly remember his example of how to live rather than instructions for doing so. Moreover, he will live on through the lives and achievements of his three grandchildren who will carry forward the best version of himself in their paths and disciplines in life. For the safety of all interested friends and relatives, the family will announce a memorial gathering in Keith’s honor when risk of the transmission of Covid-19 significantly abates.
Electronic condolences and life tributes may be sent to the family at www.noefs.net
In lieu of flowers, donations in his honor can be made to the NC Aquarium of Pine Knoll Shores, NC.
Arrangements by Noe Funeral Service, Inc. of Beaufort, NC.