By Jake Donovan
As has been evidenced in recent years, death within the boxing scene seems to come in bunches.
In a recent wave that saw the sport lose renowned trainers Angelo Dundee and Goody Petronelli in the same week, so too came another passing that managed to get lost in the shuffle.
Highly regarded referee Wayne Kelly (11/19/1948-02/01/2012) was found dead Wednesday morning, suffering a heart attack at age 63.
An Army veteran who proudly served his country in the Vietnam War, Kelly was involved in every aspect of the sport. The Long Island native enjoyed a brief stint as a pro fighter in the light heavyweight division during the mid-1970’s before turning his attention to officiating.
Randy Gordon – who has formerly served as NYSAC commissioner and the youngest ever Editor-In-Chief for The Ring magazine during the 1980’s – is described by many as Kelly’s closest friend. It was Gordon who gave Kelly – previously held back by unnecessary politics once surrounding the easily-influenced NYSAC - his first big break as an official in 1988.
Kelly was a part of some of boxing’s best and lowest moments over the course of an officiating career that touched four decades. Several of those occasions took place at Madison Square Garden, which involved heavyweight championships, titles changing hands, knockdowns, bribe offerings and a riot.
Most noted among the bunch - for all the wrong reasons – was the July ’96 riot that erupted following Andrew Golota being disqualified for excessive low blows against then-top heavyweight Riddick Bowe.
Kelly was also on hand for Arturo Gatti’s first title win (versus Tracy Harris Patterson) and his roller coaster ride of a first title defense in an instant classic against Wilson Rodriguez, as well as the infamous bribe attempt offered by Ray Mercer to Jesse Ferguson in their Feb. ’93 heavyweight clash. In more recent times, Kelly was third man for Wladimir Klitschko’s 6th round knockout of Calvin Brock.
More fitting eulogies from closer friends are forthcoming. Having never personally met Kelly and only viewing his work from ringside or on-screen, it would be a disservice to comment further on a life well-spent though cut short way too soon, especially given the high regard in which he was held by his boxing peers.
The following is an offering from Bob Duffy, chairman of the New York-based Ring 8 organization and former NYSAC commissioner. The message was posted verbatim on the Ring8NY.com website in honor of the dearly departed.
On behalf of the board and members I wish to extend our condolences to the family of Wayne Kelly, a member and a personal friend for over 25 years. In his passing I can only remember the many good times I had with Wayne, my wife and daughters also feel the grief that Wayne has left us . There was never a sad day when Wayne was around, he had that Irish gift of always bringing a smile and a good feeling that you were among a good friend. The one great attribute that Wayne showed he lived in a world of no fear, serving a year in Vietnam, boxing Pro for 4 years and working as a referee for over 20 years, always in the spotlight but always in control and you knew that …..I can truthfully say with Pride …I never worried about Wayne in the Ring, in fact, I feel it was where he was most secure …..I truly Love Wayne and I am dearly going to miss not just a wonderful man but a great friend to me, my family and the boxing world.
Bob Duffy, President of Ring 8
Services for Mr. Kelly will be at the New Hyde Park Funeral Home located at 506 Lakeville Road in New Hyde Park, NY. Viewing is Friday, February 3 and Saturday, February 4, from 2:00-4:30PM and 7:00-9:30PM on both days.
The service will be February 4 at 8PM At New Hyde Park Funeral Home with interment at Calverton National Cemetery.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]