While large company owners and high-level executives are often memorialized by our industry upon passing, the foot soldiers who slogged through the electronic mud to help alarm dealers achieve successful installations are often overlooked.
Joe Kelly, faithful husband, father, grandfather and my first tutor in the alarm business passed away due to complications from COVID-19 this past October. Well known in the greater Atlanta area, Joe was involved in the sales and installation of alarm equipment for over forty years, as well as being a close personal friend.
Joe was born and raised in Wisconsin, where he married his wife, Jan, in West Bend. After joining the Army Reserve, he was transferred to Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga. While completing his military obligation, he started working with a local alarm company performing sales and installation. He soon took a sales position in Atlanta at Aritech, a now defunct manufacturer and distributor of burglar and fire alarm equipment.
I met Joe when I started working in the Aritech warehouse in early 1978. As the shipper, I pulled, packed and shipped about eighty orders a day. Besides the summer heat of an Atlanta warehouse, what I remember is that often Joe would come to help me get the final orders prepared before our UPS pickup. Joe had strong relationships with his customers, and would always go the extra mile to get the dealers their shipments, as Joe had promised he would. At the time, Aritech did not pay any commission to their inside sales people, and Joe had no financial interest in getting the shipments out. He helped me because he had made promises to his customers and he was going to make sure he delivered.
Later I was “graduated” into an inside sales position, and sat next to Joe better than one year. In that time, Joe educated me in basic alarm system equipment requirements — i.e. if a customer ordered item “X,” they had to also order item “B” to make the first product function. From cutting round alarm keys to putting together multihead microwave or ultrasonic motion detection systems, Joe made sure that my orders were complete and correct, again to ensure that the dealer received everything they needed.
Joe didn’t lecture me on how to best service the customers; he demonstrated the honest and proper way to do business every day. Whether it was laughing about customers who came into the office with the “Diversabit haircut” (when an installer would be laying in the attic and the drill bit would come through the ceiling, grabbing a chunk of their hair), or ferreting out thievery in our accounting department, Joe was always pleasant to work beside. He was slow to anger, but watch out when he got hot. Not an emotional guy, the only time I saw this faithful Catholic man cry was when Pope John Paul II was shot in May of 1981.
I soon moved to another distributor that paid commission on sales, and Joe soon followed me. I moved to Chicago and Joe soon abandoned the hectic equipment distribution business and started his own alarm company to provide installations and alarm monitoring.
The years flowed like water over a dam, and while Joe and I were separated by 750 miles, he and Jan would make the pilgrimage to Wisconsin every year to visit their relatives, and would usually stop in Chicago where we would have a cookout and swap lies. When my travels in fiber optic training brought me to Atlanta, I would often have dinner with Joe. We were friends for 42 years.
As he grew older, he developed medical problems with his heart, and had to slow down his work schedule. He still took care of his customers, but didn’t try very hard to get new ones.
At the beginning of October 2020, Joe called me from the hospital and told me that he had COVID-19. After commiserating a bit, I asked him when he would get out of the hospital to which he responded, “a couple of weeks.” I told him that I would pray for him and that I loved him. As the call was ended, I realized that I would never talk to Joe again.
Joe was a faithful husband, father of three successful children, a grandfather and an occasional pyromaniac. Jan said that one of Joe’s greatest pleasures was lighting a bonfire at an annual celebration event.
He was also a steadfast friend, and I miss him greatly.
During this time of COVID-19 and turmoil, we all need to take the couple of minutes to call our friends. If you love them, tell them today. We may not have the chance tomorrow.