Bob Dunn said he met newly appointed White House chief of staff John F. Kelly during the 1980s at a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in Allston.
He recalled Kelly, a Brighton native, working the room and playing pool with his father, who worked as a mailman in Allston.
“There were Korean War guys here, Vietnam War guys were over there. With this guy, it didn’t matter, he made sure he said ‘hi’ to everyone,” said Dunn, a 69-year-old from Allston who served as a Marine in the Vietnam War, during a phone interview on Friday.
Dunn said Kelly has a reputation amongst Marines for “staying with his people.” He thought the retired general could bring stability to a tumultuous White House that has been rocked by scandal in recent days.
“This is a man that can bring people together,” said Dunn. “He’s a leader. I think a lot of people are going to be surprised.”
Born in 1950 to a local Irish Catholic family, Kelly enlisted in the US Marine Corps in 1970, was discharged as a sergeant in 1972, and then enrolled at UMass Boston, where he graduated from in 1976. Kelly then enrolled in Marines’ Officer Candidates School, according to biographical data published by the Department of Defense and Gale Biography in Context.
He would rise through the ranks during his military career, ultimately being promoted to four-star general in 2012. He was appointed secretary of homeland security in January. Friday, he replaced Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff.
Dunn said he swells with pride every time he sees Kelly on television.
“Somebody from Brighton? This is glory. This is the highest thing you can be coming from here, from this neighborhood,” he said. “His father delivered mail in the neighborhood. It’s an honor to see the president — no matter what you think of him — pick a guy like the general.”
Philip Guilfoyle, a 70-year-old Marine veteran of the Vietnam War from Allston, said he’s met Kelly a handful of times and described the retired general as a regular, personable guy with a common touch who didn’t have to speak to draw attention to himself. He would chat about the Red Sox, Patriots, or neighborhood news, Guilfoyle said.
“You shake hands with him, you know your hand is being [shaken],” he said. “He’s got a good, strong grip, but it’s not overpowering.”
He recalled Kelly attending a VFW-organized Fourth of July celebration at Smith Playground in Lower Allston. When Kelly showed up to the festivities, everyone stopped what they were doing and started clapping, he said.
“He was that well-liked,” he said.
He carried himself like a quintessential Marine, said Guilfoyle: “Tough, but fair.”
Guilfoyle recalls Kelly telling some older veterans, “You’re still a Marine.”
“He said it in such a way, it made you feel good about yourself,” said Guilfoyle. “We didn’t talk war stories. We didn’t need to.”