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Colo. Government Attorney Who Liked Good Suits Helps Chicago Teens Dress for Success

Posted Nov 26, 2012 4:12 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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An image of the donated suits, courtesy of Michael Kelly.

Once upon a time, a conservative, well-tailored suit was not only a professional plus but a virtual job requirement for a successful lawyer, and Michael Kelly's dad liked to dress well.

Robert M. Kelly was an assistant city and county attorney in Denver County, Colo., for nearly 40 years, and he had a full wardrobe of attire from Brooks Brothers and other high-quality clothiers when he died. Michael Kelly, assigned the task of dealing with his dad's full closet, gave some of the suits away and, since he happens to wear the same size, kept more than a dozen of the best for himself.

But after more than a decade, Kelly realized he wasn't likely to wear the suits much, given the nature of his own job as a hotel restaurant manager in downtown Chicago.

So on Oct. 31, the anniversary of his father's death from melanoma in 1998, Kelly put up a Craigslist post. In it, Kelly discussed his dad's love of the Denver Broncos (the family had season tickets for decades, and 1998 was one of the years the team won the Super Bowl), but said his dad liked nice clothes even more and offered to give the 15 suits away.

"I'm only going to give them to someone that will actually wear them," he wrote, giving readers a rundown of the suits' size specifications. "My father was a Kennedy Democrat and would've preferred that they went to someone that 'needed' them."

The result, Michael Kelly tells the ABA Journal, was a series of responses, many from mothers of young men on the city's South Side who planned to wear them to church and are looking for work in a tough economy. One young woman with a child drove miles from the suburbs on the opposite side of the city to get clothing for her husband.

At the time he put up the Craigslist post, Kelly said, he had no idea how his suit giveaway offer would be received. But a number of people didn't waste any time contacting him, and he had soon given all the suits away from his home in the Chicago neighborhood of Beverly to people who seemed eager to have them. Calling the donation "a little thing" that "just sprouted," he was left feeling that the experience was much more than he had expected it to be.

"It just makes you feel better about yourself, your existence," he said. "Maybe there is a connection to the people who have gone on already."

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