Robert Jack Kelley

Published 10:19 pm Monday, November 17, 2014

Robert Jack Kelley, 98, of Suffolk, father of Jewel Rosemary Kelley and husband of the late Mary Elizabeth Richardson Kelley, answered the call of his name on Nov. 9, 2014. Born in Suffolk to the late Oakley S. Kelley and Lillian Virginia Moore Kelley, parents who stressed strong discipline and deep love, he was the last of the six children from that union and patriarch of the Kelley family. In Suffolk he was fondly called “Dick” and in Washington, D.C., where he lived for 40 years, he was called “R.J.”



Robert finished his public school education at a time when Suffolk did not have a high school for African-Americans. He finished his high school education at Nansemond Collegiate Institute and remained there until he earned a normal professional certificate to qualify him to teach elementary education. He taught for several years in Pittsylvania, Isle of Wight and Greene counties. He also worked a stint at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard at a time when he was the only black employee there.

He attended Virginia Union University for two years before being drafted into the U.S. Army. He spent his tour of duty teaching elementary education to soldiers in the schools at Camp Holabird in Baltimore, Md. After his discharge he returned to Virginia Union and completed his degree. During this time a devastating house fire consumed all of the family’s possessions except the clothes on his and Mary’s backs. Continuing to persevere, Robert passed the Civil Service Exam and moved to D.C. to take a job with the U.S. Postal Service. He worked on a mail train that carried certified and registered mail, which allowed him to carry a gun. He worked the Green Gold line from Goldsboro to Greensboro, N.C., and from D.C. to New York City. After many years the mail train was discontinued and he worked in the postal service’s Chantilly office as a scheme examiner, from which he retired in the early 1980s.

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Since the federal government didn’t have a Social Security retirement program that postal employees paid into, Robert made the forward-thinking decision to also launch a career in the private sector. Working around his schedule with the postal service, he joined hamburger restaurant giant McDonald’s. He attended the chain’s McDonald’s College in Tacoma Park, Md., and during a tenure that spanned more than a decade he became a manager who trained other employees to become managers.

Robert was a lifelong member of First Baptist Church Mahan Street in Suffolk, where he served as treasurer for more than 30 years. He was an active member of the Sunday School and Senior Bible Class; a member of the C.H. Wilson Bible Class; a strong supporter and collected monies for the Sickle Cell Anemia Fund and Cancer Fund. He also was a member of the Suffolk Fairgrounds Advisory Committee.

The family gratefully acknowledges the Second Floor Cardiac Specialty Unit at Sentara Obici Hospital in Suffolk and expresses special thanks to Robert’s next-door neighbor Lynette Ensley, whom he referred to as his guardian angel, and to Rayford Gray. Survivors, in addition to daughter Jewel, include a host of nieces, nephews, great-nieces, great-nephews, great-great-nieces, great-great-nephews, other extended family and loving friends.

Visitation will be Thursday, Nov. 20, from 6 to 7 p.m. at Crocker Funeral Home, 900 E. Washington St., Suffolk. A funeral service will be held Friday, Nov. 21, at 1 p.m. at First Baptist Church, 112 Mahan St., Suffolk, officiated by Dr. Steven G Blunt. Interment will be in Carver Memorial Cemetery in Suffolk. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the MER & RJK Scholarship Fund at any branch of SunTrust Bank. Condolences may be extended to the family at