In the 1980s and early 1990s, Kelly led the AIDS Project at Manhattan Plaza, a large, middle-income, New York City high-rise housing complex in Times Square. According to surviving friend and Plaza resident Ruby Rims (a longtime HIV survivor, like Kelly), the AIDS Project was a room within the complex where people with HIV who lived there or nearby could grab lunch twice a week and come together for support and fellowship. “He was a sweet and very well-loved man,” said Rims.
On Facebook, fellow resident Douglas Leland remembered Kelly as someone who “did so much for Manhattan Plaza, but most importantly he cared for people near to him and beyond. His contributions did so much to instill the sense of community that we have. Be it picnics, barbeques, musical events, he was the spearhead that made it happen. Others have picked up that mantle, but because of him we live in a caring community, not just a couple of high rises. May he rest in peace.”
According to Rims, Kelly was in a church choir in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, where he also had a house, and regularly helped run the food pantry at Holy Apostles church in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. Reportedly, he became sick himself while caring for a sick neighbor, Wilhelm Burmann, a retired ballet teacher, who died of COVID a week before Kelly did.
In a Facebook post by Rims, many Manhattan Plaza residents remembered Kelly as a cheerful, kind, and helpful person. Kelly “helped so many people navigate HIV,” wrote one commenter. “Such a terrible loss.”