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Adelphi professor, author Patrick James Kelly dies at 69

Patrick James Kelly, a longtime Adelphi University history

Patrick James Kelly, a longtime Adelphi University history professor, died on April 14, 2013. He was 69. Credit: Handout

Longtime Adelphi University history professor Patrick James Kelly, who dedicated much of his life to writing a biography of a 19th-century German naval leader, died Sunday. He was 69.

The cause of death was acute myeloid leukemia, a blood cancer, according to his family.

Kelly taught survey courses and seminars in European history at Adelphi for 44 years. He worked for decades researching and writing a book on Alfred von Tirpitz, the admiral behind the rise of the Imperial German Navy before World War I.

The book had its genesis in Kelly's graduate school thesis in the late 1960s, and he took good-natured ribbing from family members about how long it was taking him to write it. The 608-page "Tirpitz and the Imperial German Navy," published in May 2011 by Indiana University Press, was met with acclaim from naval history buffs for its engaging prose and accuracy.

"We were always skeptical about whether we were ever going to see his work between two covers," said his son, Matthew Kelly, 42, of Jackson Heights, Queens. "The truth is, he was so immersed in teaching students and campus life."

In 1996, Kelly was among the professors who brought to light the financial abuses of former Adelphi University president Peter Diamandopoulos and members of the college's board of trustees.

As an active member of a campus group called the Committee to Save Adelphi, Kelly was among those who complained to the state Board of Regents, alleging trustees used the Garden City university's funds to personally enrich Diamandopoulos and held inappropriate business relationships with vendors. The move prompted hearings, the removal of trustees and the firing of Diamandopoulos in 1997.

Kelly was born Jan. 7, 1944, in Seymour, Conn., to Bob Kelly, a chemical engineer, and Evelyn Deady Kelly, a homemaker.

When he was 9 years old, the family moved to Cranford, N.J. He graduated from Seton Hall Preparatory School in West Orange, N.J., in 1961 and went on to earn a bachelor's degree in history from the College of the Holy Cross in Worchester, Mass., in 1965.

Kelly married Ellen Rooney in 1967 and the couple had two children. They divorced in the late 1980s but remained close friends, his son said.

Kelly graduated with a doctorate in history from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., in 1969. The following fall, he became an instructor at Adelphi, eventually becoming a full-time faculty member.

In the early 1990s, he met his future wife, Lorraine Ruchala. The couple was together for more than 20 years, making their home in Valley Stream.

Kelly was to retire after the current spring semester, and was only one month shy of finishing it. He taught his last class on April 2.

In addition to his wife and his son, he is survived by his daughter, Catherine Kelly of Freeport; stepdaughters, Karen Baccari of Oceanside and Jill Ruchala of Brooklyn; stepson, Kenneth Ruchala of Madison, Wis.; brothers, Thomas Kelly of Dartmouth, Mass., and Terrence Kelly of Willowbrook, Ill.; and eight grandchildren.

A wake will be Thursday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at Franklin Funeral Home, 42 New Hyde Park Rd. in Franklin Square. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 9:30 a.m. Friday at St. Catherine of Sienna Church, 33 New Hyde Park Rd. in Franklin Square. Burial will follow in St. Augustine Cemetery in Seymour, Conn.

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