Jim Kelley, a longtime appraiser, avid sailor and Flathead Beacon columnist, died on the morning of March 19. He was 67.
According to his son, Brian Kelley, Jim fell ill during a trip to Bucerías, Nayarit, Mexico, and decided to cut his vacation short. He died of pneumonia shortly after returning to Kalispell.
Jim was a pillar in the community. He moved to Northwest Montana after earning a business degree from the University of Montana in 1975. Before that, he graduated from Helena High School in 1971. Jim remained a lifelong Griz fan and would often attend home football games.
But his true love was sailing.
“Everyone knew him as Jim Kelley the appraiser or Captain Kelley,” Brian said.
I first met Jim Kelley the appraiser nearly 10 years ago soon after the Beacon published its first issue. Our reporters, like other news outlets, relied on him and his database to gauge housing market trends across Northwest Montana. He crunched numbers that scores of area real estate professionals relied upon.
Growing up the oldest of five siblings, Jim “really took charge of us,” his younger sister, Lynne Reed, said.
“I’m not sure he was ever a kid,” Lynne joked, recalling her parents saying that Jim learned to drive when he was 8 years old. Later in life, he learned to pilot his own plane. And when his brother died, Jim adopted his nephew, Brian, as his son.
But Jim, according to Brian, also “had a hard definition of work or pleasure.”
Jim loved Coronas and margaritas and being on the water. I met Captain Kelley only a few years ago after he began compiling data and writing a weekly column for the Beacon. He took some colleagues and me sailing on his boat, the Limerick, during the Tuesday night race league at the North Flathead Yacht Club.
When the races concluded, we celebrated our efforts with pizza and beer at Del’s Bar in Somers – not far from Jim’s home on Sky Ranch Lane south of Kalispell.
When he wasn’t working, Brian said, “he truly lived the Jimmy Buffet lifestyle” – a life those around him could only envy.
A mix of intelligence, generosity and perspective attracted people to Jim. It’s what kept me chatting with him during office parties when his stories would range from market predictions to his next epic sailing trip.
He will be truly missed.
A memorial service for Jim will be announced by his family.
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