Ten Minutes With a One-Man Whirlwind
Ed Kelly and his family have loved Bedford for generations
Photo by Sally Semonite Green
Ed Kelly, who traces his ancestors back 13 generations in this town says, “There is new Bedford, there is old Bedford, and then there is ‘even older Bedford.’” Kelly has been described as a one-man whirlwind by the business and civic communities here. He trained as a lawyer, served in the Navy, is an avid horseman, and runs the family contracting business responsible for the Katonah Art Museum, Caramoor, and homes designed by IM Pei and Richard Meier. At 83, he says the thought of retiring petrifies him.
What was “even older Bedford” like?
My ancestors first settled here in 1680. Until about 1830 they relied totally upon local agricultural subsistence. When the railroads came through, in about 1840, all of a sudden there was a little spark of commerce, because they were able to take the milk to the station to sell in the city.
How has Bedford changed in your lifetime?
Considering the pressures on the town, Bedford hasn’t really changed that much. Development has been very controlled. My grandfather was the town supervisor here for 50-plus years. He told me before he died in the early ’60s, that the only reason Bedford is Bedford, as opposed to any one of the more urbanized towns, is because we have no sewers. “That was done intentionally,” he said. Because he knew what would happen to this little town. And it still looks like it did when I was a kid, pretty much.
I worked as a kid on the Caramoor estate replacing roofing tiles and fixing broken glass in the greenhouses –things like that. Our company built the theater there. I would go there when Mrs. Rosen would have concerts. God, imagine being 12 years old and being dragged off on a Sunday afternoon, made to put a tie and a jacket on, and then sit and listen to baroque music. I love it dearly now, but then ...
What made you take up horseback riding?
In the Navy, I was on a destroyer for many years. And somehow or other, those hard shoes we wore and the steel deck—well my feet just generally hurt. So, I took up horseback riding in about ’68 or ’69, and my instructor up in North Salem was a past huntsman named Cecil Broad. Known as Bunny Broad. He was a delightful, young Brit. Captured by Rommel, imprisoned to North Africa for four years.
You were selected a Master of the Golden’s Bridge Hunt in 1984. What does that mean?
Like with any other organization, somebody has to see to the business management of it—hiring kennelmen, huntsman, and trailsmen. The biggest job outside of raising money is about maintaining landowner relationships. It’s not a landed gentry thing any more. It has become a community sport rather than an elitist one.
Your wife Sue Kelly was our congresswoman from 1995-2007. How did you like being First Gentleman?
It was a uniquely exciting part of my life. It was hard work for Sue, but for me it was fabulous. Why? She was in session in D.C. several days during the week and upon her return we would have endless things to talk about. You’ve seen the movie RBG about Ruth Bader Ginsburg? It was great. I saw parallels all over the place.