In his obituaries, his life sounded so tidy. Lawrence Morgan
(Larry) Kelley, the Yale football star who won the first Heisman
Memorial Trophy, in 1936, died on June 27 in his home in
Hightstown, N.J. His death, by suicide, came four months after
he turned over his beloved trophy to the owners of the Stadium,
a bar and restaurant in Garrison, N.Y. The restaurant owners had
bought the award at auction for $328,100. Before the sale, Mr.
Kelley, who spent most of his career as a private-school teacher
and administrator, said he was selling the famous bronze statue
so that he could divide the proceeds among his 18 nieces and
nephews. He also leaves behind his wife, the former Ruth Becker.
He was 85.
Everywhere Larry Kelley went, the name Heisman went with him. At
cocktail parties men would work their way to the corner where
Kelley was holding court, just so they could say they had met the
legendary Yale end. The Heisman, the Heisman, at some point
conversations with him always turned to the Heisman. When Kelley
won it--in its first year as a national award--he put on his best
suit, stood beside the trophy and grinned incessantly while the
photographers snapped away. He was 21, and famous.
Sixty-four years later, every Kelley obituary had the Heisman in
its lead. In those final write-ups, Larry Kelley came off nothing
like Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, "one of the most powerful
ends that ever played football in New Haven--a national figure in
a way, one of those men who reach such an acute limited
excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savors of
anticlimax." No, Kelley's life was a rich one. That's what made
his suicide, even at age 85, such a shock. Larry Kelley was
always sure of himself, confident to the point of cockiness. He
was the central figure in the fraternity of Heisman winners, the
life of their parties. Nobody saw depression in Larry Kelley.
He had been the center of attention all his life, starting in his
middle-class boyhood in Williamsport, Pa., where he was nurtured
by a doting, indulgent mother. A relative who knew Kelley then
and for the rest of his life says, "Larry always did what he
wanted to do, when he wanted to do it." After graduating from
Williamsport High, he spent one year at Peddie, a boarding school
in Hightstown, N.J., where he was a star on the playing fields
and in the classrooms. From there he went to Yale, where he
became a national figure, period, not just in a way.
In the fall of 1936, the Bulldogs were clinging to their historic
role as a football powerhouse. Yale was ranked 12th in the
country at the end of Kelley's senior season, when he was
captain. There were frequent stories about him in the dailies:
turning down a fantastic offer--an $11,000 signing bonus, in an
era when players earned $150 a week--to play football for the
Detroit Lions; turning down a baseball contract with the New York
Yankees; turning down an offer to play himself in a Hollywood
movie. He was smart, handsome, charming, an All-America in
football and baseball, a member of Skull and Bones. He was a
Much of his fame derived from a single play: a fumble, it so
happens. In a 1936 game Navy was beating Yale 7-6 when a
Midshipman fumbled the ball and Kelley kicked it--accidentally, he
maintained for the rest of his life--downfield, chased it and
recovered it. Two plays later, Clint Frank of Yale, the durable
halfback who would win the Heisman in 1937, scored, and the
Bulldogs won 12-7. That winter a rule was passed to address the
so-called Kelley Kick: If a player kicks a fumbled ball,
accidentally or not, the ball is dead at the point of impact and
the opposing team gains possession. Kelley spent six decades
retelling the story of his kick, with diminishing enthusiasm. But
when he told it the first time, postgame, the writers loved it.
As a senior Kelley caught 17 passes for 372 yards and scored six
touchdowns. It may not sound like all that much, but along the
way--and more to the point--Kelley charmed people in influential
places, men with typewriters and microphones, particularly. These
were the men who made him the winner of the first Heisman
These were the last days of the gentleman amateur. Kelley knew
that an ordinary career as a paid player would only diminish what
he had done in his three years as a varsity sportsman at Yale. He
also knew that, in some measure, he was a creation of the press.
His teammates knew the scribes fine-tuned many of his best
quotations. Nobody cared. When he graduated from Yale in June
1937--not making Phi Beta Kappa, as he had hoped--Kelley made a
decision to preserve his athletic accomplishments and thereby his
standing. He headed back to Peddie, to teach and coach and take
graduate classes at Princeton, to lead a graceful and tweedy
life. Those who knew him weren't surprised: He was never a man to
make a move to meet the expectations of others.
As a coach he was ordinary--he lost as often as he won--and as much
as he loved playing football, he didn't love coaching it. He was
more at home in the classroom. He thought of pursuing a Ph.D. in
history or math, maybe becoming a university professor, but he
never did. Sixty-three years later, he died in his Hightstown
house, in the shadows of his old prep school.
The life and times of Mr. Chips. That's what it looked like and
that's what it sounded like. But that's not what it was.
The widow, Mary Ruth Becker Kelley, lives in Hightstown, a
borough of 5,000 in central New Jersey where she was born 83
years ago. She is a strong woman, a retired Navy nurse, but she
remains devastated and confused by her husband's death. Suicide
violates her religious beliefs--she is a devout Catholic. Her
husband's suicide defies her idea of who he was, for she never
saw it coming.
"He liked to tend to the lawn, keep up with the kids, watch his
football games on TV," she says. "He had great wit. That was the
thing that attracted me to him. When people would ask us the
breed of our dogs, he'd say, 'The mother was a schnauzer and the
father a traveling salesman.'" She laughs, for a half-moment.
In darker moments she grapples with the questions that often
haunt the families of suicides: Was her husband's final act
selfish or his attempt to spare her the burden of his old age?
Were there signs of depression that she missed? What was his
concept of love?
Her family comes by her house to comfort her and take her to
church, which she attends daily. She has a brother and two
sisters in and around Hightstown, and they and two deceased
sisters had 18 children. Those children, many of them in middle
age, are the 18 nieces and nephews that Kelley was referring to
when he announced his decision to sell his Heisman last year.
"They've been good to me, and now I want to be good to them,"
Kelley said at the time, affirming that he had no money problems.
"You can't divide a trophy among 18 nieces and nephews."
The nephews and nieces were like his children. Ruth once asked
her husband if he was disappointed that they weren't able to have
children of their own. He answered, "Oh, it would have been nice
to have had a son." That was it. The subject was never raised
The final day of his life was the last Tuesday in June. It seemed
ordinary enough. In recent years Kelley had endured a stroke and
undergone heart bypass surgery, and in recent months his appetite
had diminished. But his mind was still sharp, he suffered from no
fatal disease, and he could move around on his own (though he
could no longer play golf, for decades an anchor in his life). He
would often say to his wife, "If I could just get rid of this
buzzing in my ear, everything would be fine."
His life had its patterns. He'd watch football, basketball,
baseball and golf on television; attend family get-togethers
almost every Sunday afternoon; talk to administrators at Yale and
Peddie and the Downtown Athletic Club. At one point, he tried to
get one of his grandnephews into Peddie, without success. The
rejection left him disappointed with his old school, but he got
over it. He was always planning something, and people were always
planning something for him: a card show at which he'd sign
autographs, a tailgate party at an Ivy League football game, a
luncheon where he would be celebrated.
Each morning, before she left for church, Ruth would bring Larry
coffee and the sports section in bed. Tuesday, June 27, was no
different, except that on this morning Larry wanted two poached
eggs and a piece of crumbled toast with his coffee and paper. He
said he was hungry. Before leaving for church and for her annual
eye exam afterward, Ruth called out to her husband, "See you
Her hearing is very poor, and she could not make out his
response. When she returned, around noon, she could not find him.
She searched all through the house. She searched outside the
house. No sign of Larry. She headed down into their finished
Ruth had a desk in the basement, where she had recently reread
more than 60 years of letters from Larry--they had met in 1938,
when Larry was a golfing buddy of Ruth's brother, Red--before
cutting each letter into tiny pieces. She was facing the somber
music of old age, wrapping up the loose ends of her life. She
knew many thoughts expressed in those letters were for her eyes
only. It was emotionally draining, parting with those old
Now she was in that basement again. Nothing in her nursing
career, nothing in her life, had prepared her for what she found
there on that last Tuesday in June: her husband, wearing his
customary black bathrobe and black slippers, in a reclining
chair, his feet on a small table, a small black handgun on his
lap, his body lifeless. Larry Kelley had shot himself in the
head. Nearby were two other handguns and a short note, from Larry
to Ruth, affirming his love for her. Ruth hadn't even known her
husband owned handguns. As Larry's body was being taken from the
house, she asked the medics to remove his rings and leave them
with her. One was his class ring from Yale. The other was his
"He always said, 'Our years together have been the happiest times
of my life,'" Ruth says. "We were married in October 1975, so
this year would have been our 25th anniversary." She dabs a lumpy
ball of pink tissue at her nose and her watery eyes. She takes a
deep breath, looks at the window of her sitting room and sighs.
One of the last public events of his life had taken place 18
weeks earlier, on a Saturday in mid-February. That was the day
Larry Kelley presented his old trophy to its new owner, Joe
Walsh, whose wife owns the Stadium, a large bar-restaurant in
Garrison, N.Y., a quaint town an hour north of New York City. The
Heisman had been on Kelley's mantel for years and years, petted
and admired by every visitor who came through the door. The
trophy was part of him. Now it would not be.
The nieces and nephews and other family members got together and
chartered a bus to take the whole gang, about two dozen people,
on the two-hour trip to the Stadium for an early dinner. (The
nieces and nephews were moved by Larry's generosity but felt
ambivalent about it. The money was nice, and they planned to put
it to good use--many of them were facing tuition payments for
their children--but they also knew what the Heisman meant to their
uncle.) They were amazed by the restaurant. It was like a sports
museum. There were two Cy Young awards, Mickey Mantle's 1956
Triple Crown trophy, three baseball MVP awards, a ball signed by
Babe Ruth. And now the Kelley Heisman, Walsh's crown jewel.
In the auction for the trophy, Yale bid but dropped out one third
of the way to Walsh's winning offer of $328,100. It was a record
for a Heisman. Ten months earlier, O.J. Simpson, the 1968 Heisman
winner, had sold his trophy at auction for $230,000 to help pay
the wrongful death judgment in the Goldman-Brown civil suit
against him. Kelley gloated at getting so much more than O.J.
had. He had disliked Simpson, whom he found egotistical, long
before Simpson was charged with murder. Kelley felt no
embarrassment about selling his Heisman to a sports bar. He was
not a man who was easily embarrassed. The trophy went to the
highest bidder. He was pleased.
He also was pleased when he arrived at the Stadium. It was the
kind of place he liked, unpretentious, sporty, with a cold tap
and large entrees. He felt at home there. He signed a picture for
the owners: To the Stadium--Take care of my Heisman! Best wishes,
Larry Kelley. He walked around, taking in everything, talking to
the Walsh family members, holding hands with Ruth much of the
Later, during dinner, a few short speeches were made. Kelley was
getting tired, and his voice was raspy. "I can see how my family
has bonded with yours," he said to Walsh. "I feel good that my
Heisman will be here, where people can see it."
Everyone thought he was about to cry. He did not. Kelley was a
stoic in all public things. He sat down, finished his dessert,
bade his new friends and old trophy goodbye, boarded the bus and
When the trophy was sold, the principal at Williamsport High,
Philip Thomas, got out his Larry Kelley file. There it was: a
handwritten letter from Kelley, dated March 4, 1996, written on
stationery Kelley had saved since 1932, when he was, as the
letterhead noted, the business manager of the Williamsport High
literary paper, The Cherry & White. He wrote that he was ready to
make plans to give the school his Heisman. "The decision of
timing presents a problem," Kelly wrote. "It will leave this
house over the dead body of my wife who, currently, is very much
alive and cooking, and I too sort of like it where it is--at least
as long as I have my faculties. So I suggest it will be yours, to
have and to hold, when she dies, or when I die, or am taken into
a nursing home as incompetent."
Four days later the principal wrote back, thanking Kelley for his
"grand gesture" and the trophy, which would someday "be enjoyed
by all in our community." In the next few years school workers
started making plans for a special display case for the trophy,
with its own alarm system.
Then late last year, school administrators heard about the
upcoming auction. They didn't know what to make of it. The next
thing they knew, their bequeathed trophy had been sold. Their
disappointment was deep. They didn't fault Kelley for having a
change of heart, but they wondered: Why didn't he call or write
to explain what he was going to do?
Those who knew Kelley all his life had an answer: He was doing
exactly what he wanted to do, exactly when he wanted to do it.
That's how he lived his life, right through his final day.
When Kelley returned to Peddie and Hightstown in 1937, he made
extra money by covering Princeton football games for local
newspapers. He also wrote a long first-person piece for Look
magazine, called "Poison Ivy League," in which he criticized
Yale football and other football programs for playing injured
athletes and emphasizing winning and gate receipts over other,
more important values. The story was widely commented upon. At
least one columnist stepped all over the piece and all over
Kelley, too. To Kelley, that reaction proved his point: When he
won his Heisman, he said that the press can make you, and just
as quickly it can break you.
A year or so later Kelley began dating a young woman named
Katharine Maria Duncan, from a prominent family in Freehold, N.J.
She was an exotic beauty. Women in town were in awe of her
height, full lips, high cheekbones, silky dark hair and fabulous
figure. Her father, Maj. Charles Miguel Duncan, ran the Freehold
Military School, and when he saw his gorgeous daughter with the
former Yale football star and bright young Peddie teacher, he
thought what everybody else thought: What a couple.
Lawrence Morgan Kelley and Katharine Maria (Quita) Duncan, then a
teacher at her father's school, were united in marriage at the
Episcopal church in Freehold on the Wednesday after Labor Day in
1939. In marriage Kelley found himself being written up again.
The wedding was a front-page story in the Freehold Transcript and
warranted a mention in TIME, too.
They looked like a dream, two stars linked in matrimony. He liked
her "come-hither" look, says a relative. She was awed by his
resume. Nobody worried about the fact that they didn't know each
other terribly well. They looked right together.
Their differences soon became apparent. Larry would take Quita to
taverns, and he would talk sports with the bartender for hours
while she was stuck with an out-of-town relative or friend at a
table by the wall. He was accustomed to being the star. He wasn't
willing to, and he didn't know how to, let his wife join him on
his stage, let alone have it to herself. What's more, she was
accustomed to the same treatment that he was, having been doted
on by her father the way Kelley was by his mother. The marriage
lasted three years.
"He was actually very shy," Quita said recently. When she
married a second time it was to a career military man, now a
retired Air Force colonel, with whom she lives in South Florida.
Her health is poor, and so is her memory of recent events, but
she recalled her years with Kelley six decades ago with apparent
"My mother and father arranged the marriage," she said. "They
were trying to do something for him, because he was so poor. I
went through with the whole thing for his sake. I felt privileged
to help him out. I was never in love with him. He was never in
love with me. It was intended to come to an end. We were frank
about it. Everyone was in agreement."
Their wedding reception--formal and elegant, as if in a
movie--was at her father's military school. All the "best
people" of Freehold and Hightstown were there. Kelley's friend
Red Becker was not among them. Neither was Red's sister, Ruth.
She came on the scene much later. Ruth would be Larry's fourth
Larry Kelley's funeral was held in the chapel at Peddie. His
grandnephew Devin Innskeep spoke movingly about how involved
"Uncle Larry" was in the sporting and academic lives of his young
relatives, the grandchildren of Ruth's siblings. But the funeral
was wrenching for Ruth Becker Kelley. Her husband had died a
violent death. He knew she would be the one to find the body, and
what that intimated was more than she could allow herself to
No one from the community of Heisman winners attended the
funeral. Glenn Davis, the Army back who won the trophy in 1946,
attended the wake. "It made me realize that we're in the fourth
quarter of the game, the last five minutes, that death is going
to happen to us all," Davis said later. Kelley's friendships with
other Heisman winners were among the most enduring relationships
in his life, although he saw the others only a few times a year,
if that. "I have to think he did it for his wife," Davis
concluded, believing as many did that Kelley didn't want to be a
burden to her.
Ruth Kelley knows such thinking is well-intentioned, but deep
down, she knows it's not true. The day she found her husband's
body, her life as she knew it was over.
Most former Heisman winners believe Kelley was about the least
likely member of their elite fraternity to take his own life.
For years he had been the life of the party, but as those years
turned into decades, he changed. First Kelly quit smoking. Then
he quit drinking. Later he gave up his unofficial role as social
secretary to his Heisman brothers.
Jay Berwanger had a 64-year friendship with Kelley, and he was
not totally surprised when he heard about the nature of Kelley's
death. "Larry Kelley was one to make up his mind on something and
do it," says Berwanger, 86, who won the first Downtown Athletic
Club football trophy, as a University of Chicago running back in
1935, when John Heisman was still alive and the award went to the
best player east of the Mississippi. "I was with him a few weeks
before he died, signing autographs at a card show. We had lunch.
He talked and reminisced. He left early. He was a little tired
from signing all those autographs. He didn't have a lot of
enthusiasm, like he usually did. I thought he had been in pain
for years. But he never said anything about it."
Maybe Larry Kelley was becoming withdrawn. Maybe he was showing
signs of depression. Nobody could have known. He hid everything
A punctured eardrum kept Kelley out of World War II, and that
was, friends said, a disappointment to him. Wanting to be
involved in the war effort, he left Peddie in 1942, just as his
first marriage was ending, and took a job with a military
aeronautical supplier. In 1946, Kelley, at age 30, married again.
According to his relatives he liked being married, even though he
was uncommunicative. He didn't need to take care of somebody. He
needed somebody to take care of him.
His second wife had been his secretary: Anne Goodwin, a
31-year-old divorcee with a young son. That same year, 1946, the
Kelleys moved to upstate New York, where Larry began a 12-year
career in glove manufacturing. It was not the most ambitious job
he could have taken in the robust postwar economy, but it came
easily to him, through a Yale connection, and it let him relive
his glory years. An old acquaintance from the glove business
remembers, more than 50 years later, the attention that the
Daniel Hays Co. of Gloversville, N.Y., received because Larry
Kelley, the Heisman winner, was on its payroll. In 1953, he took
a job as an executive with another upstate glove manufacturer.
When that company went out of business, in 1958, he was again
looking for a fresh start. He had had enough of the business
world and the office politics that came with it.
He returned to the cloistered world of boys' boarding schools,
becoming a math teacher and alumni director at Cheshire Academy,
in Cheshire, Conn., just 15 miles from the Yale Bowl. Often in
his life he would return to the glories of his youth, to the old
stadiums, old schools, old stationery, old girlfriends. His
second marriage was not a long one. Some years after it ended,
his third began.
Wife No. 3 was Lovdie Augusta Welsh. She and Kelley had dated in
the mid-1930s, hadn't talked to each other for a quarter century,
then married on July 22, 1961. One relative says Kelley married
the first time for glamour, the second time for practicality and
the third time for love. Lovdie waited a long time for the only
wedding day of her life. "When Larry was at Yale, we sort of had
this agreement, that we would get married," Lovdie said recently.
She lives in New Jersey, in horse country. She is 87 and vibrant,
still gardening, long retired as a civil draftsman for the Navy.
"I gave him my high school ring," she said, "and he gave me
his--and a football. I fell for him long before the Heisman
As it happened, though, they broke up the year Kelley won the
Heisman, 1936. "I didn't date much after that," Lovdie said.
"Larry was always in the back of my mind. By the time we were
married, we were too old to have children, but Larry was a
housemaster at Cheshire, so we had a house full of boys. When
people would ask me if we had children, I'd say, 'Nine boys.'"
Cheshire was a sports-minded school, but some of Kelley's old
students say Kelley saw sports as a means to an end, a way to get
an education. Cheshire, says Brett Stuart, class of '68, was a
school with a high population of underachievers, and Kelley was
more interested in turning those kids into strivers. He believed
in values that were then under fire: the value of boys' schools,
of a dress code, of discipline. His greatest interest was in
getting things done, raising money, building buildings.
In 1970--the year after Kelley was elected to the National
Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame--Cheshire named a
new headmaster, a position Kelley thought he deserved. He left
quickly after that and again went back to Peddie, this time to
be alumni director, this time with Lovdie. She and Larry had 13
good years together, Lovdie said, and part of a bad one. That
came at the end, when Larry's interest in Ruth Becker became
Kelley's fourth marriage, a relative says, was for sociability:
for yacht cruises, for cocktail parties, for family
get-togethers, for dinner at the club after a round of golf. It
came in 1975, a busy year for Kelley. He turned 60. He retired
from Peddie. He divorced Lovdie and married Ruth, 37 years after
he had met her. He hardly discussed any of this. "He was
reluctant to talk, he was a hard man to understand, a hard man
to question," Lovdie says. "For years I felt I knew him, and at
the end I felt I didn't. I was happy. He seemed happy."
For vacations, Lovdie and Larry would visit football stadiums,
touring all the great shrines. If there was a deeper meaning to
these visits, about the road not taken, Lovdie never knew about
it. Her husband did not talk about his emotional life, ever. He
spoke with his actions, as men, especially football men, tend to
do. He was wedded to football, to the live college game, to the
televised pro game. He enjoyed advising his boys, his school
charges, some of them anyway. He liked crossword puzzles. He
loved his dog as much as he loved anything in the world.
"Larry had a boxer, Nick," Lovdie says. "The dog developed a
brain tumor. He'd walk into a room and couldn't get out. Larry
had to put Nick to sleep. That was the most upset I'd ever seen
him. He went to pieces. Larry was more upset than when his own
The late Jack Sargent was a lifelong friend of Larry Kelley's and
a classmate of his at Williamsport High and Peddie. They played
football together at both schools and would have played against
each other in college, but Sargent's football career at Princeton
was brief, because of a knee injury. Sargent knew, all the
insiders knew, that one fumbled play--the Kelley Kick--determined
the course of Larry Kelley's life in substantial ways, made him
famous. Sargent was every bit the athlete Kelley was, but he had
no bitterness over their differing athletic fates. Sargent had a
long, successful business career and an enduring marriage to a
devoted wife, and he raised three children who became central to
his life. If there was any envy, it likely flowed the other way.
"Once Larry was visiting here, and I saw him looking at my three
kids a certain way, in our beautiful house that we had built, and
he had nothing, no children in his life, all these ex-wives, and
I felt sorry for him," says Sargent's widow, Shirley. "Larry was
smart and handsome, and he had been a good athlete. But really he
had nothing, except a huge ego."
Larry Kelley did not have 18 nieces and nephews. He had 19. His
late sister, Virginia, had a daughter, Sharon Schindler, a
college professor who lives in Cranford, N.J. Larry had a good
relationship with his only sibling and with his only blood niece.
Why he left Schindler out of the niece-and-nephew count she does
not know. She heard about the auction of his trophy on the car
radio, in a single sentence that combined the names of Larry
Kelley and O.J. Simpson. She about ran off the road. She attended
the funeral, slipping in quietly, introducing herself to nobody.
Intellectually, she can accept the coroner's finding, that the
death was by suicide. Emotionally, she cannot.
"His mother lived to be 97, his father lived to his mid-80s,
there was no history of depression in the family," Schindler
says. "All I can think is that maybe he had worn out his welcome
as an icon to the people around him. Still, as a lover of life
and a lover of ladies, I cannot see him ending his own life. He
had too much pride, too much self-respect, to do that. He had
this belief in his own legend. He was Larry Kelley! He had the
Of course, at his end, he did not.
He had a daughter, too. The obituary writers made no mention of
her. How could they? They knew nothing of her. Kelley never
talked about her, with anybody.
Her name is Katharine Lynne Libby, and she shares a first name
with her mother. She goes by her middle name. She turns 60 in
January, which means she was born in the middle of the three-year
marriage of Quita and Larry Kelley. Larry was gone before Lynne
She grew up believing that her mother's second husband, the Air
Force officer, was her father, and for all practical purposes he
is. She found out about her biological father only when she was
19. In 1975, when she was about to marry her second and current
husband, a retired Episcopal priest, she decided to write to
Kelley. Having no address, Lynne wrote him in care of the Yale
alumni office. In her letter she included a picture, wrote of her
daughter from her first marriage, suggested a father-and-daughter
His letter back was "very polite," she says. He included a
picture as well. That was the end of their correspondence. The
father-daughter reunion never happened. It seems they would have
had much to talk about. Then again, maybe not.
Lynne didn't attend Kelley's funeral. She had her granddaughter
and two of her granddaughter's friends staying with her in
Florida. She was busy, taking the kids to the aquarium, to a
Marlins game, to the beach. "It's hard to have feelings for
someone you've never met," Lynne says. "Maybe that happens in
the movies. Not in real life."
Her granddaughter is athletic, a swimmer, the winner of a
Presidential Physical Fitness award. Lynne Libby doesn't know if
her father knew he was a great-grandfather. She doesn't
particularly care. She's busy with other things. She's engaged
in her life.
Robert King is a psychiatrist at Yale who studies suicide. He
knows that nearly 10% of all people with persistent depression
kill themselves. He knows that open-heart surgery and minor
strokes, which Kelley had had, can lead to depression. But a man
who could hide a daughter for 60 years could easily hide
depression. At the time, selling his Heisman looked like a
logical move. Postmortem, King says, it looks like the act of a
person planning suicide.
"If good looks, athletic accomplishment, popularity and
admiration are what matter most to you, old age will be cruel,"
King says. "Only our ties to other people, to causes larger than
our own selves, can protect us from the slings and arrows of
aging. Here was a man who could hold on to his high school
stationery for over 60 years but couldn't hold on to meaningful
relationships with his daughter, his niece, his many wives. That
may be the real fumble at the core of the life of Larry Kelley."
Life comes with no playbook. Everyone discovers that, sooner or
B/W PHOTO: HISTORIC YALE PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DOWNTOWN ATHLETIC CLUB
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PETER GREGOIRE
B/W PHOTO: ACME/SI PICTURE COLLECTION Hot off the press Kelley (with ball) caught only 17 passes in his Heisman season, but he charmed the writers who picked the winner.
COLOR PHOTO: PETER GREGOIRE Trophy life Ruth still lives surrounded by the athletic awards and the mementos that defined her husband long after his playing days were over.
B/W PHOTO: THE PEDDIE SCHOOL Whistle blower While he coached prep-school football, Kelley (with a Peddie player in '39) wrote a magazine article criticizing the college game.
B/W PHOTO: AP Hitched to a star Larry and Quita made a glamorous couple on their wedding day, but their union would be short.
B/W PHOTO: DAVID OTTENSTEIN/YALE UNIVERSITY Alumni drive Kelley, at Yale in 1981, kept close ties with his alma mater, where a copy of his Heisman is on permanent display.
COLOR PHOTO: PETER GREGOIRE Dinner theater Walsh, who bought Kelley's trophy at auction, serves food, drink and nostalgia at his sports-themed restaurant.
HE WAS ALWAYS SURE OF HIMSELF, CONFIDENT TO THE POINT OF
COCKINESS. NO ONE SAW DEPRESSION IN HIM
RUTH REMAINS CONFUSED BY HER HUSBAND'S DEATH. THE SUICIDE DEFIES
HER IDEA OF WHO HE WAS, FOR SHE NEVER SAW IT COMING
AFTER YALE, HE DECIDED TO PRESERVE HIS ATHLETIC ACCOMPLISHMENTS
AND THUS HIS STANDING: HE HEADED BACK TO PEDDIE
NOBODY WORRIED THAT LARRY AND QUITA DIDN'T KNOW EACH OTHER VERY
WELL. THEY LOOKED RIGHT TOGETHER
FOR YEARS KELLEY WAS THE LIFE OF THE HEISMAN PARTIES, BUT AS
THOSE YEARS TURNED INTO DECADES, HE CHANGED
"LARRY WAS SMART AND HANDSOME," SAYS SARGENT, "BUT REALLY HE HAD
NOTHING, EXCEPT A HUGE EGO"