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Remembering Ted Kelly: the Man Behind the Fountain

Ted Kelly loved water. So much so that for 50 years he was involved in the construction of some 2,000 pools or fountains. But there was a special place in his heart for the Mary Kelly Fountain in Emory Village Plaza.

Sometimes he and his wife Mary would sit on the benches in the plaza watching the people interact and the water flowing. “It takes you away from the middle of the city—it’s such a treat to see it bring so much joy to people,” said the owner of Architectural Fountains and Pools, which donated the fountain.

Designed by Alliance to Improve Emory Village (AIEV) former chair Todd Hill, the fountain and its statue was dedicated September 21during the Village’s second Open Streets DeKalb festival.

The dedication celebrated the realization of an idea that germinated more than a half dozen years ago during a serendipitous encounter at a local restaurant.

Sitting at the next table, Kelly overheard long time-time AIEV Board member Cynthia Tauxe telling her husband Rob about how the Alliance was exploring options for building a park or plaza on a small piece of land carved out when Oxford Road was shifted about 40 feet toward Emory’s gate to accommodate the new roundabout.

Tauxe mentioned the possibility of including a water feature in the new park if AIEV could find a donor.

“I always had this idea that I would like to do something special that would be here when I’m gone,” said Kelly.  “So I told Cynthia that she might have just found her donor.”

True to his word, Kelly worked with AIEV over the next half dozen years. The result is a two-level fountain with submersible pumps that recirculate 20,000 gallons of water an hour. Water from a well in the plaza flows through the fountain and irrigates the plaza trees and other plantings throughout parts of the Village.

“Why?” the Atkins Park resident was often asked.  “Plain and simple,” he answered. “ I figured if I built the fountain, I’d get to name it. “

He did, in honor of the two Mary’s in his life: his wife and mother.

“My mother was the perfect mother in my book,” said Kelly whose father died when he was 15. His mother devoted the rest of her life to her three children.  “And my wife Mary is the most awesome companion and joy of my entire life. They are two ladies who have been so special to me that I wanted to do something for them that would last for a long time.”

When the sculpture was placed in the center of the fountain in 2012,it brought everything together. Kelly attached an importance to the three soaring rails beyond their place in Village history. Part of a system that carried a trolley line to the Village for many years, the century-old rails were unearthed during the construction of the roundabout and the plaza and refashioned into a sculpturedesigned, created and donated by local metal works artist Charles Calhoun.

“I’ve always thought that there’s a secret meaning to those rails —they speak to what life is about,” Kelly reflected. “You have two straight rails and one that curves off in its own direction. They remind us that however perfect we think a situation is, tomorrow always brings something different and not always what we want.  I’m 71 years old and I’ve spent the past 15 years beating cancer.  I’m a living example of being blessed.”

From the time he was in high school and through college at Mercer, Kelly followed the footsteps of his father who worked in the wholesale plumbing and heating business. The younger Kelly eventually moved on to pool cleaning and maintenance, then worked for pool contractors, until his boss at a Buckhead pool company offered him a job in sales.

“I knew the basics of the industry but had never sold anything,” recalled Kelly. But his gift of gab served him well and in 1973, he was recognized as the first salesman in the Southeast to sell over $1 million worth of swimming pools in one year —no small feat considering that the average pool cost $10,000 to $15,000 at the time. In 1988, he started his own company, Architectural Fountains and Pools, that last year celebrated its 25th year in business.

While he built pools and fountains of all sizes, ranging from the pool at the Ritz Carlton in Buckhead to the Beckham Grove Fountain near the Emory Library, the Mary Kelly Fountain was his favorite.

“The wonderful thing is the friends that I have met through AIEV and the devotion and commitment that I’ve seen in these people. Building the fountain took six to eight months. At the plaza dedication (in 2012) I heard about how the volunteers in AIEV had worked for more than a decade to improve the Village.”

That work is not done. Emory has agreed to provide ongoing maintenance of the plaza and the fountain for the next five years. AIEV is considering further improvements to the village as well.

“This has fulfilled my life,” Kelly said. “The greatest thing that anyone can do in life is to give and you have a whole organization and a neighborhood of givers.

“I get such a kick every time Mary and I visit the fountain, to the point that I’m embarrassed when people say thank you. It’s me who should be thankful that I was given this opportunity. I want the neighborhood and the community to know that without them, I could have never said to my wife and my mother, I love and respect you and I honor you more than you’ll ever know.”

Ted Kelly passed away on August 22 after a long illness.

As Hill recalls, “Ted was a self-effacing man and always replied to me when I greeted him; ‘Good to see you” with “Good to be seen!’ He knew his years had been extended via experimental treatments that Emory was engaged in, and he was grateful. Ted was a humble and hardworking man; rich in spirit and generosity. As I wrote to Mary; ‘I appreciated his insight and suggestions to improve the Emory Village fountain, his tenacity to not accept poor quality granite coping, and of course his huge donation of time, resources, materials, and expertise to bring it to fruition! It is a wonderful and visible legacy to his life’s work.’”

Ted Kelly’s wife agrees. At the recent dedication of the fountain plaque, she said, :” I don’t deserve this very great honor, but I’m going to enjoy it anyway. Building this fountain was a dream come true for my husband, Ted Kelly. He always wanted to do something big that mattered. He always wanted to buy me a bigger diamond too. When the fountain was completed and he showed it to me he said: ‘here’s your diamond.’ I think it’s better than any diamond.”