PIEDMONT -- Some said Arnold Kelly possessed the voice of God. Others, more modestly, compared it to that of actor James Earl Jones.
Kelly, a 1977 graduate of Bishop O'Dowd High School, remained true to his alma mater, lending his voice as the announcer for home football games the past two years. In addition to O'Dowd, Kelly also was a longtime presence in the Oakland Girls Softball League.
On Jan. 10, a standing-room-only congregation of family and friends gathered at Piedmont's Corpus Christi Church in a memorial for Kelly, 53, who died Dec. 30 from a heart attack.
Friends recalled Kelly as a happy, people-oriented man dedicated to his family, friends and community.
"We've been best friends for 35-plus years," said Stephen Ghiglieri, a 1979 O'Dowd graduate who eulogized Kelly at Corpus Christi. "We were both at O'Dowd at the time, and we got to know each other there. When each of us got married, our families became tightly entwined. He was godfather to my oldest son, and I'm the godfather to his son. He was the kind of guy who always lifted you up. He was caring and compassionate."
"He did things for the benefit of others," added Rocky Laber, past president of the Girls Softball League. "I had known him for about 13 years. Maybe it wasn't his intention to touch the lives of so many people, but he did -- and he did it with a measure of humility."
Kelly wore many hats in the Softball League, in which both his daughters once played. During his tenure with the league, Kelly served as a coach, umpire coordinator, fields coordinator and -- of course -- an announcer.
"He was extraordinarily kind," current league President Jonathan Klein said. "He had an impact on those who knew him and those who didn't know him -- as a coach, in helping make fields available and in helping make equipment available."
Jim and Debbie Beck knew Kelly and his family since moving next door in spring 1988. A day after moving in, Jim Beck had accidentally locked himself out of his house when he met Kelly for the first time
"My son and I were attempting to get a bathroom window open when suddenly the voice of James Earl Jones was speaking from behind me, asking if he could help me," Jim Beck said. "I sheepishly confessed that I was the new owner and was breaking into my own home. We had a good laugh, and that was the beginning of (almost) 25 years of laughing with Arnold Kelly."
Kelly brought a sense of humor to the workplace, too. He lists his occupation on his LinkedIn page, for instance, as the "Dude In Charge at SolarCity (a firm specializing in solar energy equipment)."
"We were a bunch of young college kids working at the Ice Creamery," said Lisa Coffey-Mahoney, a 1976 O'Dowd graduate and former Piedmonter reporter who is the school's director of communications. "You were going to work hard. But you knew when he worked on your shift, it was going to be fun."
Kelly's welcoming manner continued throughout his life, even in volunteer positions.
"A lot of people say that they prioritize family, friends and faith -- a lot of people aspire to that," said Colin Pugh, an Internet broadcaster for O'Dowd football and announcer for junior varsity games, "but Arnold embodied it."
Besides his distinctive voice, Kelly is remembered for his big smile, his work and for trying to help others in any way he could. In addition to many friends and acquaintances, Kelley leaves behind wife Shelley Murray Kelly and their three children, Milton (a 2006 O'Dowd graduate), Kate (who graduated from O'Dowd in 2010) and Claire (an eighth grader who hopes to attend O'Dowd next year).
The league also plans to memorialize Kelly in the form of a scholarship to be awarded to a player in the league each year.
"He was just a beautiful guy," league President Klein said. "He won't be forgotten."
An education fund has been established for Claire Kelly. Donations can be made to the Claire Kelly Fund, c/o the Foster Family, 6841 Estates Drive, Oakland 94611. Bishop O'Dowd High School also will accept donations on Claire's behalf in memory of Arnold Kelly.