Simon Kelly

Obituary of Simon Kelly

Simon passed away peacefully on Saturday June 15 in Watsonville, CA. He spent his last days in the company of his sons (Maurice Kelly, Leighton Kelly, Morgan Kelly) as well as close family friends. He is also survived by his younger sister Gwen Kelly of New York City.

Born in the town of Ilford (suburban London) on February 15, 1932, Simon spent the first ten years of his life in England. His mother Dorothy emigrated to the U.S. with her two children in 1942, during the height of World War II and the Blitz. The Atlantic sea lanes were teeming with Nazi U-boats at the time, wreaking havoc on Allied ships. Simon’s mother often recounted stories of the family’s perilous passage, and how the ship that brought them over to New York was torpedoed and sank on its return voyage to Europe.

After arriving in the U.S. his family eventually settled in Santa Cruz, where Simon attended Santa Cruz High. He quickly took to life as a California kid, hanging out at the beach and running with a fast crowd. Highly creative and a born performer, he went on to attend San Jose State University and then transferred to UC Berkeley, where he studied music, film-making and anthropology. A gifted musician, he soon got drawn in to the avant-garde jazz world in San Francisco, frequenting the hip nightclubs in North Beach and the Fillmore. He married his first wife Marlene in the late 1950s, but the marriage did not last long.

After college Simon roamed around and eventually made his way to New York City, where he worked as a surveyor to pay the bills and support his jazz habit. There he met Raphaelle (then Leslie) McMahon, who shared his passion for jazz, and they eventually got married. During this time Simon also joined Subud, a world-wide spiritual community that he was an active member of for most of his adult life.

In the early 1960s Simon returned to California and settled in Berkeley, where his first son Maurice was born.  Divorced from Raphaelle, in 1967 Simon left the Bay Area and settled in Carmel Valley. There he worked for a building/landscaping enterprise and found he had a knack for creative tile setting and stonework. He married his third wife Jennifer Lovejoy in 1969, and they had two sons, Leighton and Morgan.

By this time Simon’s theatrical talents were taking center stage in his life. He was a popular character actor at community theatres in the Carmel area, typically playing larger-than-life comic roles (Falstaff, Feste!). When an opportunity arose to start a repertory theatre in 1978, Simon uprooted his life and family and moved to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The harsh Rocky Mountain winters and uncertain financial future of the company brought him back to California a few years later. He settled in Soquel village, near Santa Cruz, where he remained for the rest of his life. Simon still vigorously pursued acting gigs, taking part in many Shakespeare Santa Cruz productions as well as tours with The Dickens Players. Other notable appearances included star turns in “The Naz” (a Bebop-inspired re-telling of the life of Jesus) and an acclaimed production of “Waiting for Godot.”

Later in life Simon continued to turn his keen curiosity and restless energy to a wide array of interests: attending live performances (especially Opera and chamber music), cinema (particularly silent movies), cooking (a masterful if offbeat chef), travel (including trips to Indonesia and Brazil), hiking (he had a deep abiding love for the Sierra Nevada mountains), arcane philosophy (a big fan of Alan Watts), poetry and literature, recovery/12-step (he had many demons), mushroom hunting (he knew the best spots for finding chanterelles)…the list goes on. Simon had an enormous appetite for life.

Many thanks to all the friends who provided such abundant and heartfelt support to Simon and his family during his passing. Much gratitude also goes out to the staff at Rose Garden Assisted Living, Santa Cruz Post Acute, Watsonville Post Acute, and Hospice of Santa Cruz County for the excellent and compassionate care he received towards the end of his life. A life celebration for Simon will be held in the near future, date TBD. For those who would like to attend, kindly send an email to Maurice Kelly ( Any donations in Simon’s memory can be sent to Subud Santa Cruz, 3800 Old San Jose Road, Soquel CA 95073.

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