Steve Kelly, who taught French in Bayport-Blue Point High School for nearly three decades — reaching students with his laugh, teasing ways and straightforward manner — has died. He was 81.
Kelly died of a heart attack in his sleep early Monday morning while in his Bayport home with his wife, Kitty.
A former Christian Brother, he began work at the Bayport-Blue Point High School as a one-year leave replacement in 1970 and remained for 28 years until he retired in 1998.
“He just had a charismatic magic with people,” said Bill Smith, a boyhood friend, who was a fellow brother in the order and worked with him in Bayport. “He had a huge smile and once kids started talking to him, he was such a tease he would put them immediately at ease.”
Earlier, as a Christian brother, Kelly taught for a decade at several schools the order staffed including Bishop Loughlin High School in Brooklyn, where he also served as an assistant principal, and other Catholic high schools near Quebec and Providence, Rhode Island.
Colleagues say Kelly gave each student in his classes a French nickname. “What it did was single them out and that class was the only place they had that name,” said Joanne Smith, a friend and retired teacher. “And he’d remember them by that name even when he would see them years later.”
Marge Vahey, another friend and colleague, said he “was very strict and academic, but he really cared about learning and wanted to make it interesting for them.” Kelly, for example, had students do oral presentations, recalled Vahey, that could be on any topic, as long as it was done in French.
“Sometimes the kids would pick a topic thinking it would embarrass him, but it never did,” she said.
Kelly also served for a decade as head of the high school language department and did a stint as the teacher union president. He also was adviser to the Honor Society and the General Organization, which ran school events.
Born in Brooklyn to a devout Catholic family, Kelly entered training for the Christian brothers at age 13 at St. Joseph Normal Institute in upstate Barrytown on the Hudson River. He graduated from the nearby Christian Brother Novitiate and earned a bachelor’s degree majoring in French from Catholic University in 1959. While teaching, he obtained a master’s degree in French literature after several years of summer studies at Assumption College in Wor cester, Massachusetts.
It was there, he met his future wife, Catherine, who at the time was a member of the Sister of Charity order, and a school principal in Portchester. Kelly left the order in 1969, after his parents and brother were killed in a car crash on the Southern State Parkway in 1967. The couple, who were friends in school, became closer after the tragedy and they began dating after she left her order in 1969. The couple got married in 1970.
Over 47 years, friends say the two were a perfect match. “Each one was an independent soul, but neither tried to overpower the other and there was an easy flow between them,” said Joanne Smith.
His son Egan Kelly of Sayville said, “Whatever I know about parenting and loving I learned from his example.”
In addition to his wife and son, survivors include his brother, John Kelly of Deer Park, another son, Eric, of upstate Katonah, and four grandchildren. A wake will be held Wednesday at Raynor & D’Andrea Funeral Home in Bayport from 2 to 4:30 and 7 to 9:30 p.m. A service of remembrance will be held at 8 p.m. A private cremation is planned.