While driving to Atlanta from my residence in Starkville, MS, I received a call from Mary Lou Kelly, wife of my good friend for many years, Joe Kelly. Mary Lou had called to tell me that Joe’s heart had stopped beating the day before, January 25th. And what a great heart it was. Joe helped so many people, mostly other State Farm agents.
I met Joe when we were both on the Board of Directors of the National Association of State Farm Agents (NASFA). Joe had recognized that State Farm agents were probably the highest taxed group in United States after they retired. They had to pay 15% employment (FICA) taxes on top of their regular income taxes. State Farm management has chosen not to help us get rid of this unfair tax burden. Joe had taken it upon himself to begin the crusade to change the status quo.
Joe had gone to attorneys to get their opinions and then to NASFA for assistance in taking on the IRS. He even had resistance from some other board members who did not have his broad vision and were afraid of climbing this steep hill. Joe was fearless and struck out on his own, a man with a mission. I am proud to say that I was part of a group who brought NASFA in behind Joe. We raised about $250,000 and won our case against the powerful IRS.
Every retired State Farm agent can thank Joe for having 15% more cash in their pocket due to this successful endeavor.
There is not space here to cover his other accomplishments in making a better life for his associates. Joe helped me a lot in my efforts to increase NASFA membership. On my request, Joe traveled from his home in Joplin, MO, to speak to the Georgia chapter of NASFA. In fact, he traveled all over the USA, on his own dime, to help others.
Joe personally counseled many State Farm agents and helped guide them in choosing a retirement path that was best for them. He even set up an organization to raise money to pursue this. Hundreds of agents chipped in willingly. They trusted Joe and wanted to help out.
Lucy and I visited Joe and Mary Lou in their beautiful home outside of Joplin. They had acreage and raised some cattle. Joe even built a nice home on his property for the caretaker of this farm. Joe shared offices with his son Bob, who was also a State Farm agent. Joe and Mary Lou’s other son J.J. is now retired from a very successful career owning a technology company.
Mary Lou showed her devotion to her family by writing a book about her life with Joe. It was not published, but should have been.
Joe and Mary Lou honored us by a visit to our Little White House in the Noxubee wildlife refuge in Mississippi. We went for a picnic lunch under a huge magnolia tree on the grounds of a beautifully restored old mansion, Waverley—a well-remembered highlight of my life.
Joe left us at age 93, and he left us having made his corner of the world a brighter place. He lit many candles. Goodbye, my friend.