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Local legend lost
Kelly Marlowe passes away at age 84
Obit Kelly marlowe.jpg

By Bill Zechman & Seth Wright

A voice for the voiceless has been stilled, at least  here on Earth.

Kelly Walton Marlowe, Jr., an immensely popular radio host, businessperson and community leader, died Jan. 31 at St Thomas West Hospital in Nashville after a brief illness. The McMinnville native and lifelong resident was 84.

As a talk show anchor on local radio, Marlowe welcomed the comments and questions from loyal and ardent listeners. “I heard Kelly this morning talking to ...,” was a familiar remark that opened many conversations.

Marlowe opened his broadcast microphones democratically, inviting the thoughts of listeners over the whole spectrum without regard to social, economic or educational status. The ensuing discussions ranged from the banal to the inspired and exalted.

The tilt was almost always toward finding the best in human nature and promoting community life and spirit.

Marlowe's influence was felt and remembered by a wide range of people who will never forget the impact he leaves behind. Bryan Kell, former general manager at the radio station, worked alongside Marlowe for 18 years. "In my opinion, from 2000-2020, Kelly Marlowe was Mr. Warren County. For close to 30 years, starting on weekends and then moving into weekdays, thousands of people started their days with 'Pa Kelly.' There was no other place that Kelly wanted to be than on the air or on the phone with his listeners. They knew he loved them and they multiplied that love back to him a thousand times over. Through the airwaves Kelly helped folks relish in the stories of the past, find some joy in the present and spread a little hope for tomorrow. Warren County is a better place today because of the life, voice and heart of Kelly Marlowe," Kell said.  

Susan Newby, daughter of Marlowe's longtime radio partner Bobby Newby, commented on the bond Marlowe had with her father as well as with their listeners. "They were very enthusiastic about their Town Talk listeners and appreciated them very much. Their bond went beyond the radio show, however. When dad was sick, Kelly would always visit and check on him and dad enjoyed and appreciated his visits."

“His impact on our community can never be fully measured but will be felt for years to come,” said Jimmy Haley, the only person to have ever served as both Warren County executive and McMinnville mayor.  “Entrepreneur, gospel singer, radio personality and sports aficionado.  He did it all.

“His passing leaves a tremendous void in the hearts of many,” Haley continued, “but will be filled with the happy memories and colorful stories we continue to share about the one and only Kelly Marlowe.”

Marlowe’s energy and effervescent personality figured greatly in his success in the business and civic life of Warren County.   After serving customers in the men’s department of the former Cook’s Department store, which sat on the spot now occupied by the downtown skating rink, he entered business on his own with his popular Kelly’s Men’s Store. 

Those endearing traits carried through in his Christian service — centered at Liberty Cumberland Presbyterian Church — and civic life, where he was prominent and productive in the McMinnville Lions Club, Jaycees and March of Dimes campaigns supporting polio research and services to victims of the paralyzing disease.

“He was passionate about what we did as Lions,” Susie Davenport, a long-time Lions leader herself, remembered. “Our motto is 'We Serve,' and he did,” said Davenport, Warren County administrator of elections and a member of the Liberty CP Church parish.  “If there was a need he looked for a way to help alleviate it.  Just like he used his radio audience to get Nursing Home Christmas started.

“Working the Lions Club fair booth with him was a hoot,” Davenport laughed.  “He usually worked the window facing the entry gates and he knew everybody, and they all stopped to talk.  His window was always full — even after they finished eating, they started to talk.”

Davenport summarized  her thoughts, offering, “What can I say about Kelly Marlowe? We will miss him. He’s singing in the heavenly choir — and talking on the back row.”

The reference to singing conjures up a torrent of memories about his joyous role in Liberty’s choir and widely-traveled gospel quartet The Harmony Echoes.  He could sing bass or tenor, whatever fit the best in bringing a hopeful Christian gospel to his audiences.  

Amanda Sain, activities director at NHC Healthcare, had a front-row seat for Marlowe's charitable work as he helped spearhead efforts to make Christmas bright for nursing home residents for approximately 24 years. 

"What a pleasure it was to have a friend like Kelly Marlowe. His work with the Nursing Home Christmas program has blessed patients over and over again in our community. He would always call and say, 'Amanda, it's Pa Kelly. Could you use some money?' He should have at least a zillion stars in his crown. We have worked together with our community over the years to bless patients with Christmas gifts, including things like giant jugs of pickles, a fur coat, Dr Pepper galore and pictures of an old home place, to name a few," Sain said.

Obituary information for Marlowe can be found at right.