In 1985, Coca-Cola introduced New Coke and James Kelly was working at the bottling facility in Montross, Va., when a friend approached him about working at Northern Neck Electric Cooperative. Randy Thompson had played sports with Kelly, and they remained friends after high school. “Randy encouraged me to come to work at the co-op, and it was the best decision I ever made,” says Kelly. Kelly’s career at NNEC lasted longer and was far more successful than New Coke.
Just after the New Year, James Kelly will retire from Northern Neck Electric Cooperative after 36 years of service. As a serviceman, Kelly is responsible for installing and repairing security lights, working with contractors to connect service at homes and businesses, performing voltage tests, and other assorted reliability and maintenance roles. As a lineman, Kelly also helps respond to after-hours outages.
For Kelly, serviceman is not just his job title, it is also his calling. When anyone at the co-op calls for help, Kelly answers, and when people in the community call for help, he answers their calls as well.
“James has been one of our most dependable employees, and we are going to miss his can-do attitude,” says Richard McLendon, vice president of member services. “If I need something and call, Kelly answers, and his response is always, ‘Yes, I can do that.’”
In 2005, hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated parts of Louisiana. Kelly was part of the mutual-aid crew that responded to the call for help. At nights, Kelly and the rest of the crew from NNEC slept in tents and worked each day to restore power in the swamps of Louisiana. “Everyone was worried about alligators, but we had a job to do, and so we did it,” says Kelly. During his nearly four decades of service, Kelly has served on dozens of mutual aid crews throughout the East Coast.
Kelly has volunteered with the co-op to hand out candy at parades, do school visits and presentations, help at community events like the Kilmarnock Volunteer Fire Department’s Carnival and much more. On the weekends, he volunteers with his pastor to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to people in need, and for years, Kelly volunteered as a coach for basketball at Essex High School.
Through the years, Kelly and Thompson would recruit employees to play on a variety of sports teams in the evenings and weekends. “We would play basketball – my favorite – softball, volleyball, kickball, and pretty much anything else we could get a team together for,” says Kelly. The teams were incredibly successful, winning several tournaments and competitions. “It was a lot of fun getting to play with friends from work, but we were also proud to play as the co-op team.”
“He has a big heart. Kelly would give his last to help a stranger, and he truly loves his family. You rarely come across a guy with a bigger heart than Kelly,” says Len Usual, serviceman, who has worked with Kelly for three decades. “I’ve tried talking him into working another year, but I wasn’t lucky I will truly miss him and our conversations about sports.”
Over the last 30 years, Kelly has coached, mentored, and helped hundreds of student athletes and is looking forward to more coaching after retirement. Although he will stop his work as serviceman at NNEC, he will always be a man of service in the Northern Neck region.