Anyone who ever worked with Bill Kelly agreed on one thing: The longtime City of Santa Clara Fire Chief had, in the words of Santa Clara County Fire Department Chief Tony Bowden,” a huge impact on my career.” But for himself, Kelly only wanted to talk about how the people he had worked with and their huge impact on him.
“You don’t know how good this team is until you’re on the receiving end,” he said at his retirement in 2019 after 35 years with Santa Clara Fire Department (SCFD), describing how paramedics had helped his son through a respiratory crisis. “I remember feeling so proud to be on that team…and proud to be your chief.”
“It’s a great loss of a great guy. Bill and I were part of the Volunteer Reserves at SCFD, and I was proud to see him go on to become the Chief of Department,” said former reserve firefighter Andy Hyslop.
Kelly died Sept. 30 from complications of lymphoma.
A fourth-generation Santa Claran, Kelly earned a B.S. in Aeronautics and an M.S. in Public Administration from San Jose State. He subsequently earned a certificate in crisis management from Harvard University.
A Rotarian, Kelly served as president of Santa Clara Rotary and was active in the service club’s charitable programs.
“He was extremely proud and honored to work in the fire department in the city he grew up in and to become fire chief,” said retired Santa Clara police chief Mike Sellers.
Over the years Sellers worked closely with Kelly, especially in developing security plans for Levi’s Stadium and says that Kelly’s work was instrumental.
“We didn’t have a playbook,” said Sellers. “We had to build a team and a plan. Bill’s vision and willingness to work long hours was critical to our success. He wanted things to be right. He always wanted to do the right thing.
“When he got sick, he didn’t feel sorry for himself,” continued Sellers, “He talked about being fortunate and blessed in his life. He will be missed but never forgotten.”
Bill leaves his wife of 38 years, Barbara, and his four children, Patrick, Bill, Shannon and Libby.
A visitation will be held 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. with a vigil service at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 6, at St. Justin Catholic Church, 2655 Homestead Rd. A Funeral Mass will be held at 9 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 7 at St. Clare Catholic Church, 941 Lexington St.
The family asks that donations in Bill’s memory be to the Santa Clara Rotary Foundation, 333 W. Santa Clara St. #750, San Jose, CA 95113.
Bill was a wonderful colleague who always put the best interests of the City of Santa Clara at the forefront of any decision making process. A kind, collaborative, thoughtful man and an exceptional fire chief. Bill will be missed.
A wonderful servant of our city. May he rest in peace.
I’m really sad. I’m just now hearing this after seeing the Santa Clara Christmas tree lighting on the news last night and hearing that it was honoring Bill Kelly. I had the pleasure of working with him on a few things at Santa Clara High School. He was such a nice man. Peace to Bill and his family.