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Patty Kelly passes away
Teacher, coach dies unexpectedly at 39
Patty Kelly after Pioneer Invitation in August.jpg
WCMS cross country coach Patty Kelly congratulates Haven Hasty following her strong finish in the Pioneer Invitational this fall.
Patty Kelly talks to team.jpg
Coach Patty Kelly talks to runners during practice this past July at the Nunley Stadium track.

The community is mourning the loss of a vibrant young educator and coach who passed away unexpectedly over the weekend.

Patty Kelly died at her home on Saturday. She was 39.

Kelly taught sixth-grade social studies and English/ language arts at Eastside School. It was a somber atmosphere Monday when students learned of her passing.

“It was very sad,” said Eastside principal Rex Crabtree. “We met as a staff and talked about it and there were some tears. Counselors were available for the students to talk to and I noticed several students took advantage of that option. Patty was a very positive person who was a joy to have around. She’s going to be missed for sure.”

Kelly grew up in New Jersey where she was a track and field star. Tall and slender, she was a state champion in the high jump for two straight years and also won the East Coast championship in high jump.

It was her love of running that led her to start a cross country team at WCMS in 2016. Prior to that year, the middle school had never had a cross country team.

Kelly believed healthy habits established in middle school could carry over later in life. She was a firm believer in the benefits of physical fitness in adulthood.

“Running helps you feel so much better when you wake up in the morning,” she said in an interview with the Standard last year. “It helps you in so many ways to stay healthy and stay focused. I think it’s so important to stay active.”

Kelly started the Pioneer Invitational, a premier cross country event for middle school students in the Midstate. The race was held early in the season as a kickoff event.

She was also coach of the WCHS track team, which is preparing to start its 2022 season. Even at 39, she would still get out and practice high jump with her students.

Kelly was also community-minded. She believed in the importance of having her athletes give back. One example of this was she had her cross country runners volunteer to paint over the summer at Eastside School and they did a wonderful job.

Patty and her husband Patrick had recently taken in two foster children before her unexpected death.

“She had only had those foster kids for two or three weeks and she was giving them the best home they had ever had,” said Patty’s stepfather Dale Gardner. “We’re hoping to be able to keep them because we’ve already become attached to them too and we have a meeting set up with DCS about that.”

Gardner said that Patty “touched so many lives” and they enjoyed fishing and shooting guns together. “I was her stepfather, but I always treated her as if I was her father,” said Gardner. “This has been a very tough time.”

Kelly will be cremated and a local memorial service will be scheduled at a later time. 

Gardner says the family is still searching for answers about what happened.

He said Patty’s behavior was very erratic on Friday night, to the point where her husband took her to the emergency room. Patty, who was always on the go, was diagnosed as having extreme fatigue and was told to go home and get rest. She died the next day.