I’ve been thinking a lot about Jim Kelly lately.
Jim was a resident of the retirement community where we conduct three services a week. He went to be with the Lord five years ago, and I still miss him every time we gather to pray, sing, and share the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ with the residents of the community.
Jim was 101 years old when he passed away (passed upward, actually!). Or rather, his body was that old. Jim’s spirit, attitude and zest for living never got past his late teens or early 20s. I can’t recall how many times I heard our ancient but young friend say, “You know, Glen, I think this has been the best day of my life!” And he meant it.
The story I most often tell about Jim involves a day when I met him as he was heading toward the chapel for our services. He looked at me very seriously and said, “Glen, I just got back from the doctor, and he gives me six months.” I was taken aback, and prayerfully looking for the best way to respond to this difficult news. Before I could utter a word, however, Jim smiled and said, “Yep, Glen, I don’t have to go back to the doctor for six months!” Then he broke into his trademark Jim Kelly uproarious laughter that still echoes through the halls of that community where the mention of his name brings instantaneous smiles to those who knew him.
Jim played golf until he was 97 years old. He became a favorite fan among the players of the Senior PGA Tour (now known as the Champions Tour). He attended their tournament each year held at a nearby city, and held court with the likes of Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Ray Floyd, and many other golfers who, like everyone who met and knew Jim, came away amazed and impressed by the young man who dwelt in an old body. Not long before he died, Jim also received a nice letter from none other than Jack Nicklaus, the greatest of all golfers, and a man acquainted with presidents, kings, and powerful, famous people of all kinds. He also knew, however, that the Jim Kellys of the world are the rarest of souls, and the ones who touch the deepest part of the hearts they encounter.
Near the end of his life, Jim gave me a number of golf balls autographed by the Senior Tour players. He had a box of these balls in his room, and directed me to reach in and take some. I’d pick out a ball, read the name, and Jim would say, “Yes Glen, you can have that one.” However, if I happened to select one with Trevino, Player, or other luminaries of the Tour, I’d hear, “Nope, Glen, better leave that one in there!” On the last such occasion after he had given me some signed balls, I looked at him and said, “You know, Jim I’m disappointed that you haven’t given me an autographed ball of my all time favorite golfer.” I then pulled a new ball from my pocket, and handed it to Jim with a pen.” The official “Jim Kelly” autographed golf ball still sits in a glass case in a place of prominence in our den.
I could go on and on about Jim, but the main thing you must know about him is that he was a committed born again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. This was the source of Jim’s zest for life. Indeed, this was Jim’s life. When I think of my friend, I think of a man who truly lived more than an entire century because for most of that time he was united to the Savior he loved. Jim’s legacy in my heart reminds me always that we can either exist, waiting to die. Or we can live, waiting to be glorified. Christ is the sole issue of this matter, and Jim chose the latter course of following in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul’s joyful exultation, “To live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21).
I would not want to have lived without having known Jim Kelly. If you didn’t, my sympathies are with you. However, come to think of it, if you’re reading this, you likely know the One who made Jim the man that he is (I like writing that in the present tense because Jim is more alive now than ever, as he dwells in the direct presence of the Lord Jesus). Therefore, the Source of a life truly lived abides with us all if we have believed. Just writing about Jim Kelly has been a refresher for me, and a challenge to greet each new day, regardless of its circumstances, situations and conditions, with the expectation of being able to echo our dear brother’s triumphant cry, joyfully declared from a nursing home and wheelchair, “You know, Glen, I think this has been the best day of my life!”
“The hoary (gray) head is a crown of glory if it be found in the way of righteousness.”