Shortly after 2:30 of a cold Canadian afternoon a week or so ago, the Honorable Leonard Patrick Kelly, Liberal Member of Parliament from Toronto's York West, took his assigned bench No. 235 in the Gothic limestone and oak chambers of Canada's Parliament building at Ottawa. Thoughtfully and patiently, he listened to a heated discussion of the Conservative austerity program of which, as a loyal member of the opposition, he disapproves.
This hardly would be worth reporting here were it not for the fact that less than 24 hours earlier Leonard Kelly, M.P., had been electrifying his fellow Torontonians on the ice at Maple Leaf Gardens, where he and his teammates out-skated and outplayed their bitter NHL rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, in a tense 4-2 hockey game.
Whereas sitting in Parliament is a brand-new experience for 35-year-old Red Kelly, winning hockey games is old stuff. He is one of the few players in the NHL who has scored more than 200 goals, and he has been named to the league's All-Star team no less than eight times. The highest scoring defenseman in history, Kelly is now in his 16th year in the big league, a career already twice the length of the average and still going strong. Last April, Red led Toronto to its first Stanley Cup in 11 years, and he cannot enter a taxi, restaurant or airport without being asked for his autograph. Largely because of this popular idolatry, Red Kelly agreed, soon after the Cup victory, to enter politics. The decision was popular with fans (and constituents) but not with everybody.
"Sure, I had my doubts," says Toronto's gruff, peppery Coach Punch Imlach. "My theory is that a man can't serve two masters. Red's getting old. I felt he needed every possible day of rest and training. Instead, he missed part of training camp, where all kinds of rookies were making a beeline for him, anyway. They figured they'd take his spot because an old man will injure easier. No respect for our M.P.s, you see."
December 3, 1962
Imlach's apprehension seemed justified as the season opened with a tired Kelly getting off to a very poor start. He tried to play despite an onset of flu, was knocked cold in a game against Boston, then missed four games. Any normal man would have known it was time to quit, but not Red. "There's always an exception—and that's Red," says Imlach, with rare affection. "He is an exceptional person. He's the type who if he feels he's hurting the team will go out and work all the harder."
Kelly did just that. Now, suddenly, he is playing better than ever, having scored five goals and five assists in 16 games. His recovery has lifted Toronto from a dismal 4-6-1 to a contending 10-9-1, moving rival Montreal Coach Toe Blake to say: "Red Kelly is still one of the greatest hockey players on ice."
Kelly learned to skate at age 2 on his parents' 200-acre farm near Simcoe, Ont. Until his marriage three and a half years ago, he worked on the farm every summer, strengthening his legs by marching behind a plow. "I used to love to plow the fields," he recalls, "because I could sing at the top of my voice and no one could hear me. Except the horse, and he couldn't say anything."
The Detroit Red Wings signed Kelly in 1947 at the precocious age of 19. He responded by helping them to eight championships and four Stanley Cups in 12 years. Then, in a deal that shocked the NHL, he was traded to New York near the close of the 1960 season. He had fallen into disfavor with Detroit General Manager Jack Adams, first for his frankness in facing Adams with the team's complaints ("I felt that was my duty as captain," says Kelly) and second for admitting to a newspaper reporter that Adams had urged him to play part of the previous season six days after breaking an ankle. The story created a sensation. "Adams tried to get the doctor to say the ankle wasn't broken," says Kelly, "but it was." Rather than report to last-place New York, Kelly decided to quit. Five days later, after considerable backstage maneuvering, league officials okayed a deal by which he was to report instead to Toronto, and Kelly changed his mind.
Red made his first appearance with Toronto the very next night. When his line skated onto the ice, the ex-Detroiter received a four-minute ovation that has never been matched in Maple Leaf Gardens. "Just when the applause should have died down," recalls Red, "everyone stood up."
In Detroit, Kelly had become one of the best defensemen in the league, but Punch Imlach, who is never inhibited by tradition, decided to make a center of him. In doing so, he lighted the spark that propelled a formerly floundering club to the finals of the Stanley Cup. In the semifinals Toronto met Detroit. "I never once looked up in that box where I knew Adams would be looking down at us," says Kelly softly. "I knew they'd be told to come after me, and they did, but it didn't bother me. The more they came the harder I fought. I figure it made me play better. I liked it."
Toronto liked it too. The Leafs grew even stronger the next year as Kelly fed long, daring passes to a brilliant but brooding young prodigy named Frank Mahovlich who, up to then, had failed to live up to his early promise. Under Kelly's influence Mahovlich's goal production rose from a 1960 total of 18 to 48 in 1961. Mahovlich went on to become the only big-league athlete worth an official $1 million at the auction block, but it was Kelly who was voted the team's most valuable player. One year later, Toronto finally regained that long-awaited Stanley Cup as Kelly, one of those largely responsible, set a career high of 22 goals scored and a personal low of only six minutes spent in the penalty box. "If you lose your temper while the puck's in play, you only give your opponents an easy chance to score," he says, explaining a philosophy that has long since established him as one of the cleanest players in the game.
Red Kelly speaks softly but with much warmth, while his playing style is so economical it almost looks lazy. He circles smoothly, ready to swoop into the play at precisely the right instant. He unfailingly draws a rising roar from the crowd when he rushes the puck across the blue line into a pack of waiting opponents. A scramble follows, like clothes flying around in a washing machine, and out pops Kelly on the other side with everyone after him.
"Kelly is the best soccer player on ice," says Imlach. "By that I mean he can tie up the other guy's stick while he dances the puck free with his skates and takes off. That's why he's so good in the corners. He uses his body like a wall to keep the others back."
Red Kelly is also a man who can find great pleasure in the discovery that a peacock feather "has beautiful, bright colors on one side, but it's completely dull on the other," and whose fondest moments occur when his 2-year-old daughter lovingly piles her blanket, her book, her doll and herself under his covers while he takes an afternoon nap before a game. His new job, representing York West's 90,000-odd voters in Parliament, leaves little time for such enjoyments. Since September, when Parliament convened, Red has been commuting several times a week by plane between Toronto and Ottawa.
The tourist-class fare for the 55-minute flight is $38 round trip, leading one newsman to compute that Trans-Canada Air Lines will collect between $6,000 and $9,000 of Kelly's $10,000 parliamentary income by the time Parliament adjourns next spring. (He gets $8,000 in salary, $2,000 in expenses.) But Red is not upset. "I understand they might give me a free trip for Christmas," he grins. Besides, he can still count on $19,000 or so in pay and bonuses from the Maple Leafs.
Kelly does not waste any nervous energy fretting about his difficult schedule. "I don't worry about it," he said one morning last week. "If I make it, I make it. If I don't, I don't." He was seated on his bench in the Leafs' dressing room, resting after a hard morning practice before flying to Ottawa, and pondering whether his parliamentary work would keep him there overnight or allow him to catch the late plane home. His wide features softened and the boyish look returned as he slowly transformed himself from a dripping athlete into a smartly dressed legislator in a neat brown suit, black challis tie and gray Burberry topcoat. He picked up his only luggage, a thin, brown attaché case with the initials R K on the side. "Some people think I should use L for Leonard now, but what the hey," says Red, coming as close to profanity as he ever does, "I've been Red all my life and I'm no different now than I was before."
This unaffected quality as much as his sporting appeal made Kelly attractive to politicians looking for a strong candidate. But when a longtime friend first asked him to stand for Parliament, Kelly turned him down. "Then I began to think of how often we all complain about how badly things are being run, but never do anything about it," says Red, "so I thought maybe I should try."
The Liberals asked Kelly to run in York West, although he lives in another riding (district), a practice that is common in Canada and Britain. His opponent was the incumbent, a Conservative lawyer named John B. Hamilton who had won the office by a solid 19,000 votes in 1958.
"They didn't really expect Kelly'd win," says one York West voter. "They mainly figured he'd help the other candidates draw big crowds." Still, the Liberals gave Kelly all the necessary campaign funds and a solid organization. "They told me frankly that I might not win," he says, "but I never go into anything with that attitude."
The campaign began in the midst of all the elation and excitement over the Stanley Cup, but Kelly had no time for basking in glory. For 45 straight days he was out of his house before 8 a.m., rarely getting back before the family was asleep. "We took to writing notes," explains his wife, Andra, a pretty redhead who formerly appeared in the Hollywood Ice Revue.
"I never had my speeches written out for me," Kelly says. "I couldn't say something if it wasn't really me talking. I didn't make any campaign promises. I just said I'd represent the people to the best of my ability.
"The issues were unemployment, devaluation of the dollar, balance of trade and tight money. I spoke as a husband, father and small businessman [he owns a 36-acre tobacco farm and a 12-lane bowling alley near Simcoe]. 'Talk to my wife,' I said. 'Her regular budget isn't enough anymore because prices are so high.' I asked people how long a business or a government could go on operating deeper and deeper in debt."
Kelly concentrated on meeting people personally. He signed thousands of photographs, drawing such crowds that "sometimes I felt like the Pied Piper." As the race tightened, his opponents tried to ridicule the idea of a hockey player going to Parliament. "I think that only helped me," says Red. "It made me work all the harder when I might have let down." The hard work paid off. Kelly became part of the Liberal sweep of usually Conservative Toronto, winning by more than 3,500 votes.
Kelly realizes that he is on trial, so to speak, but it does not rattle him. "If they're not happy with me then I'll have to get out, right? I wasn't elected for life, after all. I'm a raw amateur at this and if I make mistakes it's not because I'm not trying, it's just because I don't know any better. I'm a rookie and rookies take bad falls. But they get up, too."
"Oh yes," agrees his trim, efficient secretary, Catherine McNeely. "We've had a lot of hostility from constituents who feel he can't represent them and play hockey, too. I don't see how he keeps it up. He's so conscientious. I've seen him arrive here at 4:30 in the afternoon and fly back six hours later."
Although Kelly did not attend college, he probably is better equipped for his new role than many of his colleagues. He has a deep reservoir of native intelligence, and his sincerity lets him say things naturally that career politicians never quite manage, even with practice. "I have two children," he said recently in defense of U.S. President Kennedy's stand on Cuba, "and I don't want them growing up under Russia."
As a Liberal, M.P. Kelly is a member of the minority. However, the Liberals recently came within a whisker (eight votes) of forcing another general election and Kelly, like his colleagues, is confident they will succeed in toppling the Conservative government by spring.
"Why do you want to force another election?" Maple Leaf Forward Bob Pulford recently challenged Kelly. "It only means you'll have to run all over again, and you might lose."
"Because," Kelly replied, "I believe that is exactly what my constituents want me to do."
"I'll tell you one thing," says Coach Punch Imlach. "People are always saying what a great credit Red is to the sport of hockey. Well, he's not only a credit to hockey, he's just as much a credit to those people up there in Ottawa, too."