Aspen Institute’s Patrick Kelly led selfless life
When people learn they are terminally ill and realize any day may be their last, they often create a bucket list to complete their lifelong wishes.
When Patrick Kelly was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor in March 2015, he created his own plan.
Only the items on Kelly’s plan — which he came up with through an organization that helps people identify and accomplish the 10 most important goals in their life each year — were all of service to others, said Kelly’s close friend and former colleague, Steve Wickes.
At the time of Kelly’s diagnosis, Wickes worked as a coach at an organization called Best Year Yet.
And one of Kelly’s first goals on his list was just that — to become a certified Best Year Yet coach and help people create their own “best year yet” written plan.
One of Kelly’s top goals for his last living months was to become certified to mentor others to realize and accomplish their life goals.
“And he accomplished every goal on his list for his last year of life,” Wickes said.
At 6 a.m. Thursday, the 38-year-old husband and father died in his home, according to his wife, Collins.
Collins updated Kelly’s Caring Bridge journal Thursday afternoon with news of his death.
“Witnessing Patrick’s death today carried its own beauty and power. Patrick was my best friend, a deeply devoted son and brother and the most loving father to Clara. He touched so many in his life with his calm manner, attentive listening and deep intelligence.”
“Clara (Kelly and Collins’ 3-year-old daughter) was the light of his life,” said Cristal Logan, another close friend and colleague of Kelly. “And he had the most profound love for Collins.”
Kelly worked nine years at the Aspen Institute.
“Patrick embodied the Aspen Institute values,” Aspen Institute CEO Walter Isaacson said. “He was somebody who understood the importance of treating everybody with respect.”
Kelly’s colleague Peter Waanders echoed Isaacson’s sentiment.
“He was a walking example to us of the Aspen Institute,” Waanders said.
Waanders works as the director of the Society of Fellows, the institute’s donor program, where Kelly served as the deputy director.
Kelly’s primary role at the institute was to create the seminar and event programming, Waanders said, which he viewed not as a job, but as a passion.
“He took his job very seriously and gave his full heart and soul to what he was doing,” Logan said. “He was such a pillar in our office here.”
Logan remembers the day she interviewed Kelly for the job nearly a decade ago.
“He’s always been such a great mentor to our younger staff and interns, even as far back as 2007,” Logan said. “He just touched the lives of all those young people who worked here.”
“Through his role with the fellows, he developed what felt like close, personal relationships with 1,600 people,” Wickes said. “How many people do that?”
Wickes estimated Patrick knew about 95 percent of the 1,600 fellows by first name.
“And I bet 100 percent knew Patrick by name,” he said. “That’s just the kind of person he was.”
Kelly is remembered for his courageous and optimistic spirit, selfless character, personable nature and “infectious” smile.
“He was optimistic and a good fighter,” Isaacson said. “Even when he was very sick recently, he would show up at Aspen Institute events and have that smile on his face.
“It is a deep, personal loss for all of us because we loved him so much.”
Fully aware he was in the midst of the mountain bike race of his life, Aspen’s John Gaston said he “tried to not think too far ahead” to prevent the magnitude of the moment from getting to him. He eventually finished runner-up in the iconic race.
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