© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Bob Kelley, retired regional labor and civic leader, dies

Retired St. Louis labor leader Bob Kelley, who died Saturday, October 27, 2018.

Bob Kelley, the retired longtime president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council, died Saturday of heart failure at the age of 75.

He resided in St. Charles and had been ill for some time.

Kelley led the council for 29 years, until he retired in 2004. During that time, he was a major regional figure in the labor movement, in civic affairs and in politics.  

He was active in Democratic politics and was a national committeeman from 1984-1992. He was a Missouri delegate to the presidential convention in 1992 that nominated then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.

Kelley was among the behind-the-scenes players involved in two expansions of the St. Louis convention center and in the development of the St. Louis Renaissance hotel downtown, now known as the Marriott St. Louis Grand.

In 1999, Kelley played an influential role – along with former St. Louis Mayor Vincent C. Schoemehl Jr. and then-U.S. Rep. Richard A. Gephardt – in ending a bitter dispute between 4,000 machinists and TWA, which had a major hub at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and was threatening to go out of business.

Kelley also was a major figure in the 1978 statewide defeat of a “right-to-work’’ proposal aimed at curbing union rights. He was a 44-year member of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 655, the largest retail union in Missouri.

He served as a member of the Missouri AFL-CIO Executive Council and the National AFL-CIO's Advisory Committee for State and Local Central Bodies.

During his tenure as labor leader, Kelley served on dozens of civic and governmental boards. They included the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, the United Way of Greater St. Louis’ Board of Directors and Executive Committee, and the University of Missouri’s Labor Education Advisory Committee.

He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Barbara Kelley; six children: Colleen Boschert (Paul) St. Charles; Amy Phillips (Russ), St. Charles; Melissa (Missy) Kelley, St. Louis; Erin Eberhard (Jason), St. Charles; Michael Kelley, St. Louis and Meghan Pauly (Craig), St. Charles. Sister-in-law Leslie Hardt (Darrel) St. Charles, 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are pending. The family has requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Parish or the St. Louis Labor Council's “$5 for the Fight Fund,” a program founded by Mr. Kelley in 1996 to provide emergency financial support to out-of-work union members and their families.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.