John Kelly

John Kelly was a commercial lawyer with an infectious energy, love of life and a deep commitment to family and community. He was particularly interested in issues of social justice, especially in supporting young people and, in the last year of his life, left a successful business career to work in the non-profit sector.

John Skipper Kelly was born on March 24, 1960, in Middleborough, England, the second of five children of Denys and Marie Kelly. In the mid-1960s, the family moved to Oakey, Queensland, where Denys owned and operated Kelly’s Motel.

John was an energetic toddler who grew into a bright and active, if not always disciplined, student. Boarding at Downlands College in Toowoomba in his last two years at school, he blossomed and was made school vice-captain.

After finishing school, Kelly became an articled clerk with Henderson & Leahy in Brisbane and studied law at the Queensland University of Technology. As usual, his social and sporting life took equal prominence. He played first-grade cricket with the University of Queensland and was a regular on the university ball and rural B & S party circuit. In this period he met Catherine Duckett, who was in the final year of her teacher training.

Shared passions for travel and a love of the natural environment saw the relationship develop. It was cemented with travel together to Europe in 1985. A two-year stint in London followed, where Kelly joined Sinclair, Roche and Temperley, and built the legal and aviation leasing expertise that was to be a foundation for his career.

John and Cath returned to Australia in 1988 and married on a 40-degree-plus day in remote Alpha, Queensland. Kelly converted his aviation law experience into a fast-track career at a top-echelon law firm, Mallesons. He was made a partner at age 31.

Kelly never fitted the conventional stereotype of the buttoned-down lawyer. He brought the full and authentic force of his personality to the office and is especially remembered by colleagues for the way he supported, shaped, counseled and mentored those with whom he worked. He was also a supporter of the Pathways Foundation, an organisation committed to developing the potential of young people through a rite-of-passage program.

However, Kelly was a firm believer in work-life balance. He maintained an exercise regime that included city to surf , half marathons, 24-hour trail walkers, and mountaineering.

In 2006, Kelly left Mallesons to join Allco Finance Group, where he helped to build a successful aviation-leasing business. During the GFC, he negotiated the difficult sale of Allco Aviation with integrity in the most challenging period of his career.

His next career move took him from the business world into the non-profit sector. He was deeply engaged with Activate, a program committed to developing the leadership potential of young people. He found great satisfaction in this work and is remembered by the Activate team for his open heart, open mind and significant contribution to the organisation in a short period of time.

The John Skipper Kelly Fund, providing funds for young people to achieve their potential, will provide a permanent memorial. Michael Traill AM