Written by: Joseph P. Heenan, February 10th, 2019
On March 18th, 1935, the Philadelphia Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick held their 164th Annual Banquet. Their speaker was Olympic Champion John B. Kelly. The transcript of his speech was recently discovered in the historical records of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, and has been digitized at Villanova University’s Falvey Library Special Collections.
MR. MELVIN :
Until recently, whenever any one in Philadelphia mentioned the name Kelly, he naturally thought of our distinguished District Attorney, Charlie Kelley, or, perhaps, of Councilman Edward Kelly, or one of the other nine Kellys who are members of this Society. Tonight we are thinking in terms of John B. Kelly. When I first met him fifteen years ago, he was the world’s champion oarsman. At that time the political party that he now adorns was locally a mere shell. Jack Kelly was then a shell rower. But in recent years that shell has developed, first, into a light cruiser and now, into a battleship. And instead of being champion sculler Kelly, we, as we view him on the deck of the young Democratic battleship, might today call him Admiral Kelly. I have great pleasure in introducing to you another outstanding Kelly, John B. Kelly, who will respond to the toast “Philadelphia” (applause).
MR. KELLY :
Mr. President, Distinguished Clergymen and Guests, Ladies and Gentleman:
First of all, I want to thank the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick for giving me the opportunity to answer the toast to “Philadelphia.” I understood that this was to be a dual role tonight, but Congressman Bill Wilson is not here, due to illness, I think, in his family, and I hope that I can say some of the things that maybe Bill would have liked to say, if he were here.
You know, I may not be able to answer properly this toast, because I am not a student of elocution, but I hope I may make up in sincerity whatever I may lack as an orator.
You see, I am very Irish, being the youngest of ten children. My mother and father were born in County Mayo. It seems strange to me that I should find it necessary to be proposed for membership in the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick by A. Raymond Raff, a German. I think that possibly his name may have been Rafferty in the olden days (laughter).
Philadelphia, to me, is the greatest city in the world. I have had an opportunity to represent this city in many sporting events in the various states of this country of ours, as well as several foreign countries, and I always felt that I was an ambassador from Philadelphia. I hoped that, through my sportsmanship and conduct, I might be able to reflect some credit on this old city of Brotherly Love. That is the reason that I am proud to be a member of this old organization because it is so definitely Philadelphia and played such a part in the making of our country, as it was founded before the Revolutionary War.
The Irish have played a great part in American history. I had an opportunity recently to read in an old book a list of those who were killed in action in the Revolutionary War. It looked to me like a roll-call of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. So we are not interlopers here at all. We helped to found the country, and I am very happy to have this opportunity to come before this sterling gathering and emphasize our right to the high position we hold in American history.
Frank Smith sent word up to me a little while ago, “Don’t be too serious.” He said, “A story or two might be all right here tonight – an Irish story.” Therefore, the Judge is responsible.
My grandfather was about 75 years of age when he died, and I remember, one night, we had sort of a gathering of the clan at our house. We had it every year. You see, with ten children and many relatives, we always rather “put on the dog” those nights and had a very elaborate dinner. On this particular night, my Grandfather was sitting next to me and, as the steaks were brought in, I noticed that he became rather quiet, and I said, “What is the matter, Grandfather?” He replied, “I was just thinking, the world is all wrong. Years ago, in Ireland, I had good teeth and nothing to eat, and now here I am, with this steak, and not a tooth in my head.” (Laughter.)
You see, it is nothing new that the world is all wrong. Everybody you hear speaking these days, over the air, and at banquets, talks about the depression, and says that we are all going to the bow-wows and that everything is upside down. I even read in the papers that they are having upside-down stomachs now. I am not sure whether this is an old ailment or whether it is one caused by some of the political speeches people are forced to listen to over and over again.
However, I am decidedly confident and see the future through rose-colored glasses, because I think that gatherings like this are typical of the people – the bone and sinew of this country. We are too proud and too smart ever to let this country reach the depths which our pessimists predict. No matter what has happened, we are now going ahead. I believe that we have passed our darkest hour. We are on the upgrade. Only a week or so ago, I read that the people of this country are paying 49 per cent. more income taxes than they did last year. We are moving on to a better day. Let us all just remember that, no matter what our politics are – whether we like the President or not – remember that he is our President, the choice of the people, just the same as George Earle, our Governor, is the choice of the people. Maybe I do not agree with everything that George Earle says, or that the President says or puts into his program. I’ll tell you frankly that there are some things with which I don’t agree. But still I am sport enough to feel that maybe they have a better chance of seeing the right than I have because, like the referee of a football game, they can see more closely… they get the picture a little better than I can. So, I say to you, let your criticism be constructive criticism. Just remember that we are all on the team, and even if some of the plays are not perfect, if we are all behind them, we will find out quickly enough. They will let us know that the initial play isn’t the best thing, and then we can all move on to the better program.
President Roosevelt very wisely said that these are desperate days when we must take desperate chances. He has said, “Now, maybe some of the things that I am going to try will not be the right thing, but let us all get behind them, and then, as soon as I see they are not workable, we will all search for the right track.” So, let us all be friendly about our criticism of his efforts. I don’t like the policy towards corporations that are holding companies, but I don’t think our leadership wants to abolish all holding companies. We don’t want to be too radical. Let us go down the middle of the road because, in setting up a program, we don’t want to hurt anyone too much. In order to bring about the desired results, let our criticism be constructive, and then I think in a few years we will look back to this dark hour and say, “Weren’t we foolish that we were so worried!” We are going to move on, so—regardless of our political affiliations—let us be sports enough to say, “Well, I will go along ; my ideas will prevail the next time.” But at least, let us go along with this New Deal for the present.
Now, I heard one of the previous speakers say that the Irish like to fight for themselves, and, also, after they accomplish that, they like to fight for others to see if they can’t get some benefit out of it. That is what sent a lot of Irish to this country, to fight in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.
It reminds me that a few years ago I was in Ireland, just after Home Rule was granted. In Dublin I met an Irishman and became rather friendly with him and I said, “It must be a great source of satisfaction to you that after 700 years of fighting, you can lay down your arms and sit down to a peaceful existence? You have accomplished what you set out to do.” He replied, “Yes, it is very nice ; I never thought I should live to see the day myself,” and then he added, “You know, it is a damn shame what those English are doing to those poor Hindus in India. I think we ought to step in over there.” (Applause.)
Now, here is a story they tell about Fritz Kreisler. He was in Radio City where they have an elevator exclusively for musicians. Everyone who comes in with a musical instrument rides in that elevator. Kreisler came in with his violin and walked to the passenger elevator. The operator said, “Take the musicians’ elevator.” Kreisler said : “Probably you don’t understand ; I am Fritz Kreisler.” and the elevator operator replied, “I don’t care a damn if you are Rubinoff ; take that other elevator.” (Laughter.)
Up in East Falls where I live it is a rather hilly country. Vincent O’Donnell bought a new Ford several months ago, immediately after the election, and drove it up in front of the Democratic headquarters, while he went in to have a few drinks. Vincent stayed inside several hours. Well, someone released the brake and down went his Ford, ending up caressing a telephone pole at the bottom of the hill. Vince came out, saw his car missing, and said to somebody, “Where is my car?” The other fellow said, “It went down the hill ; I will show you where it is.” Vincent started down, and when he saw the car telescoped against the pole, he said, “That isn’t mine ; mine was longer than that.” (Laughter.)
I will conclude my remarks by telling the story of a St. Patrick’s Day parade. Up in Boston they have a parade every year, and there was a fellow there who always worked so hard to put over the parade that as a sort of reward they thought they would let him be marshal. He had always wanted to be marshal and on this St. Patrick’s Day they gave him full charge. The different clubs were lined up on various side streets ready to march.
He went to the band leader and said, “When I raise my arm, we are ready ; when I drop it, you start the march, and all the clubs will fall in ; then I’ll get on my horse, and gallop up in time to be leading the parade when we reach the grandstand.” The band started and he rushed back to get on his horse. It was one of those big brewery horses that was unused to people riding it, and it started to shy away from him. He had one foot in the stirrup and he was getting scared that he would be late for the parade. He cursed and swore at the horse without result, and finally he sought divine assistance. “Oh, God, all my life I’ve wanted to be marshal. Now, here is my chance and I can’t get on this brute’s back. Help me, St. Michael, St. Patrick, St. Anthony, all of you help me!” Just then he gave a superhuman effort and the horse shied toward him and he went up over the horse’s back and landed on his head on the cobbles on the other side. Regaining consciousness, he looked up and said, “Why the hell did you all push at once?” (laughter).
I could go on telling stories all night but I want only to say to you that I am delighted to be here. You know, recently, I have stepped into politics. Some of you will probably find it hard to believe, but I feel that every one in this life should give some service. I feel that if you seek security by obscurity and go along just in your own business, quietly enjoying life, you are not living. I feel there should be a two-party government in this city and in this State, and that is the reason I went into politics. I don’t know what is behind the curtain ; I have no desire to look behind it. No matter what happens to me, I am taking life in its stride, just trying to help Philadelphia. Whether I succeed is for you to judge.
I am sorry that Bill Wilson isn’t here, because I think he shares these same views with me. I want all of you to watch us closely, and if we don’t do the job the way you think it ought to be done, just tell us so. We want to give you the very best we have in us in our effort to have this great city governed by decent people (applause).