Jack Kelly, organizer of major sporting events, dies at age 68

tharrison@herald-leader.comJuly 24, 2013 

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Jack Kelly laid groundwork for the World Equestrian Games.

JANET WORNE

Jack Kelly, who served as the first CEO of the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Lexington, organized Olympic festivals and ran the Goodwill Games, an international sporting competition, died Wednesday after a two-year battle with bladder cancer. He was 68.

Mr. Kelly, who lived in Lexington, was originally from Boston.

He was the major events organizer at the 1986 U.S. Olympic Festival and ran the 1990 U.S. Olympic Festival in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Later, he joined Turner Broadcasting Co. in Atlanta as president and CEO of the Goodwill Games, a pet program of billionaire entrepreneur Ted Turner. He ran those for six years; his work involved 40 trips to Russia for the 1994 games in St. Petersburg, where he met Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Kelly convinced Terry Johnson, executive director of the Bluegrass Sports Commission, to join the staff of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Johnson described Mr. Kelly as "full of energy and a very, very, very smart man."

He said Mr. Kelly served as a mentor for those who worked for him. Johnson said they remained friends after Mr. Kelly, who became CEO of the Equestrian Games in 2006, resigned in 2008 for personal reasons. In 2010, Mr. Kelly came onto the board of the Bluegrass Sports Commission and was vice chairman in 2011. The commission promotes and stages sporting events in Central Kentucky, notably the Bluegrass State Games.

"He lived a life of a lot of different experiences," Johnson said. "So he had a story for everything — the kind of stories that you want to listen to."

Jim Host, the founding chairman of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games when Mr. Kelly served as CEO, described Mr. Kelly as very personable and knowledgeable about the Olympic movement.

"He's probably the only person in my life who's beat me at sports trivia," Host said.

John Nicholson, executive director of the Kentucky Horse Park, also met Mr. Kelly through the World Equestrian Games. Nicholson said Mr. Mr. Kelly laid the groundwork for the Games, which became a successful and historic event in Lexington. Nicholson said the event exposed Lexington and the Horse Park to 500 million people who watched it on television, in addition to those who attended.

"It was without doubt a game-changer," Nicholson said.

While he didn't know much about horses before the Equestrian Games, Mr. Kelly fell in love with them, Nicholson said.

Johnson said Mr. Kelly's favorite sport was baseball. Mr. Kelly was an avid Red Sox fan. Johnson said Mr. Kelly's collection of sports memorabilia was amazing.

Mr. Kelly is survived by his wife, Kathy; and children, Michael Kelly and Kerry Lynn Schatz.

Funeral services for Mr. Kelly will be at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Clark Legacy Center at Brannon Crossing in Nicholasville, with a reception afterward.

Taylor Harrison: (859) 231-1324. Twitter: @heraldleader

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