Brooks Kelly, 77; lifelong artist was director of Plymouth County Development Council

Mr. Kelly, who helped found the Pembroke Arts Festival, painted nearly every day.
Mr. Kelly, who helped found the Pembroke Arts Festival, painted nearly every day.

Sometimes Brooks Kelly looked at people passing by and found the seed of a painting in the way a hand moved or a head turned.

“What I really look for is the gesture in people, which really tells so much about them,” he told the Globe in 2000.

”Betsy Ross”

Inspiration also arrived in the form of an inanimate object or in the way light fell.


“He might sketch a person, he might sketch a lamppost,” said his wife, Anne, who watched him paint and sketch at home and on many trips around the world. “And he’d point things out: ‘Look at the shadows and the patterns they’re making.’ He saw art just about everywhere.”

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Mr. Kelly, who spent a quarter century as executive director of the Plymouth County Development Council, died of a lung ailment Oct. 5 in Jordan Hospital in Plymouth. He was 77 and had lived in Pembroke for 50 years.

An artist since childhood, he helped found the Pembroke Arts Festival in the late 1960s.

During the mid-1950s, Mr. Kelly served in the Army and was stationed in Paris, to which he and his wife returned often.

“He loved Paris. He probably visited 10 times,” said his daughter Terry Johnson of Pembroke. “He loved to go back and go through the Louvre and other museums. He has a ton of paintings based on what he saw there.”

Oceanside 17 Studio and Gallery

Mr. Kelly had been a Copley Master with The Copley Society in Boston, and also belonged to the Cape Cod Art Association, the South Shore Art Center in Cohasset, the Duxbury Art Association, and the North River Artists Society.

Employing collage as part of his technique, he might add actual sand to the beach in a painting, or use coins to form buttons on a marching band’s uniforms.

“The collage adds another dimension,” he told the Globe in 2000, “literally, another dimension.”

In the artist’s statement on his website,, he referred to his paintings as “social commentary with a touch of whimsy.”

“I prefer to deal with contemporary everyday events and situations,” he wrote.


Calling painters such as Goya, Daumier, and the social realist artist Jack Levine his mentors, he wrote that “when successful, my work is a benign mixture of satire and capricious humor.”

“Each painting is a challenge,” he added, “and I paint to see what it will look like.”

The older of two brothers, P. Brooks Kelly Jr. was born in Boston and at first lived in Plymouth, where his father was a physician at Jordan Hospital.

dina rudick/globe staff
”All Aboard”

Moving to Cape Cod, he went to Barnstable High School, from which he graduated in 1953. He played on the 1951 football squad that was undefeated and met with teammates through the years to reminisce.

“The fact that they would still get together for breakfast to celebrate the football team when they were in their 70s was pretty remarkable,” his daughter said.

Just as memorable was the friendship he struck up with Anne Slavin after arriving on the Cape.

“We met in the seventh grade when he moved to Barnstable,” she said.

At first, their divergent interests seemed a barrier. He liked art and she was headed toward becoming a nurse.

“We did go out, but quite often we would discuss our differences and wish each other luck,” she said, “but I always found him to be one of the most interesting people. As we got a little older, things changed.”

They married in 1957.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a question he couldn’t answer for me, or if he didn’t have the answer, he would set me off in the direction to find it,” she said. “His interests were so varied, and through his work he expanded our world into foreign countries. His curiosity and his daring to try different things made life interesting.”

After graduating from Barnstable High School, Mr. Kelly went to what was then Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, and left after a year for his stint in the Army.

He returned to graduate in 1960 and initially worked for Dickie-Raymond, a direct-mail advertising agency in Boston. Mr. Kelly also drew editorial cartoons for the Silver Lake News, a weekly in Pembroke.

In 1974, he became executive director of the Plymouth County Development Council, where he worked until retiring in 1998. Among his accomplishments and responsibilities was lobbying for the return of the Old Colony rail line. He also made presentations about the county’s history to tourism groups around the world.

“I didn’t know then that I’d learn to speak pretty well about three subjects, in no particular order: cranberries, the Pilgrims’ story, and whale watches,” he told the Globe in 1998 when he retired.

At home, where Mr. Kelly and his wife raised five children, “he was a quiet man who listened,” his daughter said. “When we were around the house, he would just sit back and take in all the crazy stories. But he was always very engaged in what was going on, from politics to the stock market to the general news of what was going on around town.”

Mr. Kelly painted nearly every day and “always had a little sketchbook that he would put into his jacket pocket,” his wife said. In Paris, they liked to wander around the Left Bank, sit in cafes, and watch people.

“When he painted, the radio was tuned to WPLM in Plymouth and I recall many John Philip Sousa marches loudly playing in the background,” his son Glenn of Woods Hole wrote in an e-mail. “When it wasn’t a Sousa march, he loved Dixieland music and Ray Charles albums.”

Mr. Kelly knew well the power of perseverance. Though his art through the years won many awards in contests and at exhibits, his was a lifelong pursuit.

“It’s been a long night of overnight success,” he told the Globe in 2000.

In addition to his wife, daughter, and son, Mr. Kelly leaves two other sons, Brian of Lewisburg, Pa., and Kevin of Hull; another daughter, Amy of Middleborough; a brother, William of Marlton , N.J.; and four grandchildren.

A service has been held.

In the e-mail, Glenn wrote that Mr. Kelly “didn’t fit the typical stereotype of an artist.”

“He was a man’s man, loved football, sported a crew cut/flattop military-style haircut, but was truly a gentle soul,” Glenn wrote. “His favorite medium was collage. I think of his life that way. He loved to travel and come back, telling my brothers and sisters about all the people and places he had gone to.”

Bryan Marquard
can be reached at