A chat with Ed Kelly, chief marshal of the 2018 Dorchester Day Parade

Edward A. Kelly, the chief marshal of the 2018 Dorchester Day Parade, is General Secretary-Treasurer of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF).

Following are questions and answers from a Reporter interview with this year’s Dot Day Parade’s chief marshal, Neponset native Ed “Edzo” Kelly:

Q. What does it mean to you personally to be leading the Dot Day parade?

A. It is quite an honor and I will take great pride marching alongside Mayor Walsh and Governor Baker, two friends whom I admire and respect very much. When I look through the list of past chief marshals, I am humbled to be in the company of such great examples of who Dorchester people really are. To follow in the footsteps of Joe Zinck and the late Jimmy McCarron, friends who have always dedicated themselves to our country, city, and neighborhood, and Mary-dith E. Tuitt whose efforts at the State House delivering back to our community I have admired.
I have also served on the board of directors of the Massachusetts Iraq and Afghanistan Fallen Heroes Memorial with past Chief Marshall Brendan Murphy, where we were part of a team that built a fitting tribute to all Bay Staters who sacrificed their lives fighting the War on Terror, including Dorchester’s own Danny Londono and Edgardo Zayas, who served posthumously as chief marshal in 2007. Sharing the honor that year was Brian Fountaine, Shane Burke, and Chris Saunders, three warriors I’m lucky to call friends who served our country bravely in what is Dorchester’s greatest tradition, fighting for each other. When I look at the great people who I’ll be able count myself amongst, I am not sure I belong.

Q. What is your favorite part about the Dorchester Day proceedings?

A. The parade itself is always my favorite part. The Parade Committee really needs to be commended for all the effort they put into all of the events. I’d like to recognize my friend Craig Galvin for spearheading the chili cook off and making it the great event it’s become.

Q. Who will you spend the day with?

A. Well, first and foremost, my wife Katy and my kids Maggie and Tommy. I appreciate that my friend, and proud son of Dorchester, Fire Commissioner Joe Finn has assigned my fire company, Ladder 17, to the parade so some of my fellow firefighters will march with me as well as union leaders like Boston Firefighters Local 718 President Rich Paris. The State Champions of Dorchester Youth Hockey Squirt B’s will be marching with us, as well as Neponset Street Hockey League players. After the parade I’ll head down to the John P. McKeon Amvets Post where I am a proud member.

Q. What are some of your fondest memories about growing up in Dorchester?

A. It was a great place to grow up. I was the fifth of six kids and we always had a couple uncles living with us. We lived on the Dead End of Westglow with about 40-50 other kids. The Swikes, Devines, Solettis, McLaughlins, McCarthys, the Burkes, to name a few. The older kids looked out for the younger kids; the same clothes, beds, bikes, skates, toys etc. all made it through each house. I never knocked on a front door, just walked into any house and ate right out of the fridge. Nobody batted an eye. My brother Greg, now a Fire lieutenant, and my best pal Bucko Burke, now a district fire chief would do ‘fire inspections’ (walk around someone’s house making sure the lamps were plugged in) for a dime or a quarter so when we got sent to the Pope’s Hill Creamery for cigarettes, we’d have a littler something for lollipops or a trip to the port for Seymour’s ice cream Hoodsies. I’m trying to teach my daughter some of Dorchester’s life lessons. We were all lucky to be Dead End Dot Rats.

Q. How do you remember Dot Day as a kid?

A. I remember walking up Ashmont Street with the O’Connell family, and watching the parade in Peabody Square. As we were coming of age, Dot Day weekend was the highlight of the year. On Saturday we would have the Jazz Basketball Tournament down Toohig Park, named after my friend Richie “Jazz” Maffie, who was killed in a car accident on Ashmont Street in 1989. Then Dot Day itself was always an adventure. Everyone bought their Dot Day tee shirts from Jack Doherty at College Hype. We considered stopping by the Carney and C-11 a double-header.

Q. What are a few of your favorite neighborhood spots or establishments?

A. I travel a lot for the union, so being away so much makes me really appreciate coming home to Dorchester. For me, a morning run to Greenhills Bakery to get my wife her small coffee with a little bit of cream is a great start to a day, or breakfast after the St. Ann’s 10:30 at The Butcher Shop. Of course, I have a mandatory check in at the Eire Pub to see Kevin McCarron and hear the proprietor John Stenson’s signature laugh. All of the new restaurants have been great additions to the neighborhood, The Landmark, Dorset, Industry, Lucy’s and I’m looking forward to Blasi’s reopening after the fire they suffered in their building. Getting my haircut at Aiden’s Barbershop with Heather and Tara holding court always makes me feel at home.

Q. You’re well known in the community, but what’s something people might be surprised to learn about you?

A. My father, Jack Kelly, being my idol wouldn’t come as a shock to anybody. Following in his footsteps has been my natural path. I was blessed with always knowing what I wanted to do in life – be a fireman. Riding my bike into the South End and hanging around with my Dad at the firehouse was gold. My brother Greg and I would wash the truck and run any errands my father’s pals Captain “Duozo” Reynolds, Dicky Sanders, Jerry Yanovich, Hippy Gonzalez, or Joe Odom needed. I think you’d have to know our family pretty well to recognize what a tremendous influence my mother Noreen has been to me. My mother grew up in the same house as we did, the oldest of six children. Her Dad was a fireman and owned Dwyer Oil company in Neponset and my mother was the bookkeeper. Bobby “Wizza” White, a legendary Beacon Hill lobbyist and proud Dot Rat told me that Dwyer Oil never left any house without heat, whether you could pay or not. My mother’s youngest brother Jimmy was struck and killed by a P&B bus on Neponset Ave. walking home from The Finast Supermarket when he was just six years old, which really impacted her family. My mother was always a leader, a rock for everyone around her, her beauty shines in the tough times. She is a proud graduate of Fontbonne Academy, although she never went to college. Through her hard work and intelligence she became the head of the admitting department at St. Margaret’s Hospital. My mother had six children, but seven kids, including my father. Her legacy is that we all turned out pretty good. My oldest brother Sean is a lieutenant on E-18 in Peabody Square, my brother Steven is the president and CEO of Timberline Construction Company, my sister, Dr. Dianne Kelly, is the superintendent of Revere Public Schools, my sister Tricia Keegan has worked as an engineer all over the world, and my brother Greg is a lieutenant in J.P. and a war hero as a part-time job. My mother has been working on him for a half a century, but even my father turned out okay under her tutelage. I am truly blessed. I also had 22 cousins I grew up with in Dorchester.

Q. Do you say three-decker or triple-decker?

A. Only three-deckers where I’m from.

Q. Firefighting runs in your family and in your blood, and you’ve been around firefighters all your life. What are some common misconceptions you think people might have about firefighters and the job they do?

A. That we all know how to cook. We all know how to eat just fine, but I was only allowed to cook once in the firehouse. I made hamburger and vegetable soup that I thought was delicious. We ate in three days a week on the Dead End, which wasn’t so popular with my guys who were used to Bubba Martin’s meatloaf or Charlie Santangelo’s baked chicken. It was all potato-peeling and washing the pots and pans for me after that.

Q. Finally, we’d like to thank you for your service and for being a leader in firefighting communities from the local to the international level. Considering the Dot Day Parade’s military history, what special significance will June 3 have for you?

A. When I think about the tremendous service to our country by the men and women of Dorchester, it’s just an honor to be a part of it. Take a look at all the street corners named for our fallen around this neighborhood. My cousin’s uncle, Robert A. Griffin, is one of the 79 sons of Dorchester who made the ultimate sacrifice and is memorialized on the Dorchester Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Gallivan Boulevard. The expressway overpass at Freeport and Boulevard is named for him. This August marks 50 years since his death. I’ll be reading all the corner signs when I march down Dot Ave. and remembering their sacrifice.