William Kelly – Colonel, United States Army

Christiane Kelly didn't live to be as old as her husband, Colonel William Kelly, who was only six weeks shy of his 104th birthday when he died in 1980. Mrs Kelly died in her sleep in her Buffalo, New York, home early Friday (December 24, 1993), more than three months before she would have turned 104.

“I feel very blessed that I had these parents who lived such long lives and were never a burden to anyone,” their daughter, Diane Rittling, said Friday night. “They lived very active lives until the end.”

Did they ever. Kelly, who was West Point's oldest living graduate at the time of his death, played golf until he was 95 and drove until he was 97. Likewise, his widow packed a lot of living into her last days, even going out for lunch Thursday. “She was out all day yesterday,” Mrs. Rittling said Friday. “She didn't like to be home. She liked to be on the go, driving around and seeing the world.”

Mrs. Kelly, the former Christiane Demanet, was a native of Antwerp, Belgium. She met Kelly when he was stationed there after World War I. They were married in 1919. Kelly earned an international reputation as an engineer, supervising the building of bridges and roads in the Philippines in the early 1900s, helping lead the relief effort after the San Francisco earthquake in 1906 and supervising the rebuilding of German power facilities destroyed in World War II. He later served as president of the old Buffalo Niagara Electric Corp., a forerunner of Niagara Mohawk Power Corp.

Mrs. Kelly was a longtime member of the Garret Club and the Country Club of Buffalo and played bridge until about three years ago.

Survivors include two daughters, Mrs. Rittling and Cecile Whittemore of Kent, Connecticut; eight grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren. A memorial Mass will be offered at 3 pm Wednesday in St. Michael's Catholic Church, 651 Washington St. Burial will be in Arlington National Cemetery, where her husband is buried. Christiane and William Kelly were married in 1919.

Courtesy of the United States Military Academy:

William Kelly was born in New York City on 8 January 1877. He graduated second in his class at West Point after completing one year at Yale.

Kelly was assigned to the Corps of Engineers and went to the Philippines. While there, he was involved in road and bridge construction which helped to end the insurrection and reestablish commercial activities.

While serving in the Army, his assignments consisted of the design and construction of seacoast fortifications in California and on Long Island Sound, and a return tour to the Philippines. He was stationed in San Francisco during the earthquake and fire and was in charge of relief and housing work.

During WWI, Kelly served in Washington, D.C., and France, where he was tasked to survey the navigation of the Danube and collect inventories of floating plants and facilities from the Rhine, Elbe, Oder, and Niemen rivers. In France, he was the Chief Engineer, 42d Division. Before his retirement in 1951, he was the Chief Engineer of the Federal Water Power Commission and studied most of the important streams of the United States to carry out the terms of the Federal Water Power Act.

Colonel Kelly wanted to retire after 30 years, but a Senator blocked his retirement. The Senator felt that Kelly’s contributions were far too important for him to retire. He resigned in 1928 and was placed on the Honorable Retired list in 1951.

Kelly’s civilian career was as distinguished as his military career. He was the vice president, general manager, and then president of the Buffalo, Niagara, and Eastern Power Company. He also served with the American Association for the  Advancement of Science and the Smithsonian Scientific Series, Washington, D.C.

Colonel Kelly’s decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal for service in France and the French Legion of Honor. He was the oldest living graduate from
November 1978 until he died in 1980 at the age of 103.

Colonel Kelly was buried wth full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.  His wife, Christiane Demanet Kelly, born at Antwerp, Belgium, and died at Buffalo, New York, 24 February 1993, is buried with him.

Read our general and most popular articles

Leave a Comment