James Perry Kelly, 45, a journalist, naturalist, scholar, and a 12-year resident of Galveston Island, died at his home in Fish Village in the presence of his parents on August 27, 2013. He was an award-winning science writer at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas.
Born to James and Joanne Kelly in West Palm Beach, Florida, on March 22, 1968, Jim enjoyed an idyllic childhood in the waters and woods adjacent to their home.
He wrote: “For me it was a living laboratory, a place where I could go to watch and wonder about all sorts of things: the social lives of fiddler crabs, the link between tides and the phases of the moon; the way the sand seemed to move differently at different times of the year, piling up in summer and dwindling in winter.”
While in high school he managed the Palm Beach Planetarium, which, along with growing up during the Apollo program, fueled his interest in science and space. He went on to Rice University and completed his bachelor’s in History and English in 1990.
Recruited by the University of Texas as a science writer, Jim published several hundred in-depth articles on medical discoveries winning multiple awards. He had an ability to translate complex scientific content into layman's terms, and was able to assimilate large amounts of information, generating original ideas and expressing them clearly in writing.
Jim lived an active life. He loved surfing, kayaking, bicycling, hiking, gardening, camping, traveling, and falling in love. He would spin remarkable stories about the people he met and the adventures he had upon his return. A few of his favorite trips were with his family to the Isle of Skye; hiking to Machu Picchu along the Incan Trail in Peru and climbing in Argentina with his brother Michael; chasing an eclipse in southern Mexico with his friend Grant Balfour; backpacking through the winter in Spain where he arrived on roller blades to meet his brother Joel; camping with Mary and Matt Havard, and also with his close friend Krishna Narayanan, who said: “Jim always had a seemingly luxurious camping tent in the midst of nondescript tents". At the time of his death, Jim was planning a walk-across-Ireland with the Canright family.
For those who knew Jim, he was a wonder: a voracious reader, a progressive thinker, a lifelong Democrat, a great listener, an affectionate son, a supportive brother, and a wickedly witty companion and friend.
For about two decades, Jim lived on and off with severe clinical depression but always faced it courageously and never lost hope. When he was free of this depression, he was high-spirited and light hearted, and even in his dark days, he remained a brilliant, thoughtful presence.
Kirk Smith often kayaked with Jim and shared this memory: “On one occasion, we were crossing the ship channel from Seawolf Park toward the ferry landing on Galveston Island. As we neared the landing, a ferry from Bolivar made a sharp turn in its approach to the landing and we found ourselves in its path. I veered port and Jim veered starboard. The ferry’s course was also starboard and the last I saw of Jim, he was paddling furiously. Once the boat passed, I began scanning the horizon for Jim – or for debris. It was with considerable relief that I caught sight of him, lying back on his kayak, some distance away. When he saw me, he lifted his paddle in triumph. I would give so much to see him lift it again.”
Jim is survived by his mother and father, Joanne and James of Lake Worth, Florida; two brothers, Michael in California and Joel and his wife, Lizz, of New Orleans; and extended family, many friends, and many neighborhood cats. The ones he has left behind are looking for that peace that he has found, the peace that passes all understanding.
For those wishing to make a donation in lieu of flowers, the family suggests a contribution to Artist Boat, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to the exploration and preservation of coastal habitats, 2415 Avenue K, Galveston 77550; 409-770-0722.