St. Louis-area Labor community remembers Bob Kelley


Bob Kelley was a take no prisoners passionate leader for working men and women. While he had a huge heart, was a loyal friend, and was the center of a loving family, he did not hesitate to use his considerable intellect to take down hard anyone who stood in the way of fairness for the rank and file union members in this state.

I’m so glad he lived to see the people of Missouri, again, defeat “right-to-work-for-less” by such a resounding margin.

He is irreplaceable.

– Claire McCaskill, U.S. Senator

Fighting for workers, understanding employers

Working people, union members and businesses all lost an exceptional leader with the passing of Bob Kelly.

He was always fighting for the interests of union members through achieving win-win solutions for union members and employers. He not only understood, and fought for, the people in Organized Labor and what they needed; he also understood the needs of businesses and as a result of his common sense, could get things done. That was his gift.

Bob uniquely understood that when you resolve conflicts successfully – everyone can win and have economic success.

If St. Louis had not had a person like him in as a leader in Organized Labor for so many years, we would not have had the good relationships in St. Louis between workers and employers that we had.

He was also my friend and supporter for 40 years – and I am so grateful for that.

Dick Gephardt

U.S. Representative (1976-2004)

A debt of gratitude

I was privileged to know Bob Kelley and to see the product of his lifetime of dedication and leadership to the Labor Movement. The Labor community lost an icon.

As working men and women we owe a debt of gratitude to him for what he fought and won for us throughout his well-lived life.

– Steve Stenger


St. Louis County 

Improved workers lives

Bob Kelley improved lives for the men, women, and families of the thousands of people he represented.

He was the genuine ‘nice guy’ with a twinkle in those blue eyes that made him so effective.  He was a gem… I will miss him, we will all miss him.

-Lyda Krewson


City of St. Louis

Can never repay for his act of selflessness

I would not who I am today without Bob Kelley.

From my early years he was always there to share his knowledge as he did for everyone that wanted to learn. But because we both came from Local 655, I always felt I had an even more open door to Bob than others.

I’ll never forget our visit shortly after I became the local’s president.

He summoned me to his house and told me it was time to step up in the Labor community. He told me in no uncertain terms that I had a responsibility to the Movement he loved and built to earn the trust of other Labor leaders and start working with them to stop the phony “right-to-work.” That was eight years before Missourians began even worrying themselves about “right-to-work.”

But Bob was a true leader, which meant he knew how to plan for the future.

I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today, and I don’t believe Missouri would have defeated Prop A last August, if it hadn’t been for Bob Kelley’s wisdom and foresight.

Losing Bob means losing a confidant, a friend, a mentor, and a giant of the Labor Movement who defined his entire career by putting the people before himself.

The Labor Movement was lucky to have him, and I doubt we’ll have someone like him again.

My personal condolences, the condolences of his entire Local 655 family; our thoughts and prayers, are with his family.

May his Soul Rest In Peace.

-David Cook


United Food & Commercial Workers Local 655

Labor lost a giant

From the second I decided to get involved with the Labor Movement in St. Louis, I followed every move and statement Bob made.  

After the honor of being elected Labor Council president, whenever I ran into something I was unfamiliar with, Bob immediately was one of my first calls. He freely gave of his time to discuss, and offer advice, on things big and small, every time.

Along with Bob Soutier (they made a tremendous team), I’ve leaned on him many times since for guidance.  

Candidly, I really didn’t understand the magnitude of this office until I was elected and began dealing with the community. It was then that I realized how respected the Labor Movement is because of Bob Kelley’s efforts over several decades.

His wisdom and guidance will be sorely missed but never forgotten.

His family remains an important part of our community; I’m sure they will carry on his legacy for years to come.

The St. Louis Labor community lost a giant today, but his footprint will be evident for many years to come.

– Pat White


Greater St. Louis Labor Council

A true gentleman

I would say Bob Kelley, as well as Dick Mantia were mentors to a lot of young Labor leaders such as myself. No matter how busy, when asked, Bob was always there to give advice.

He was not only a great Labor leader, he was a true Gentleman who treated the CEOs the same as the grocery baggers!!!

He was an icon that will be missed by all.

– John Stiffler

Executive Secretary-Treasurer

St. Louis Building Trades Council

Left his mark

A great Labor and community leader who indeed left his mark, not only in St Louis, but everywhere he had an opportunity to improve the lives of working families.

I am grateful for his guidance and advice that he was willing to share with me early on and throughout my career in the Labor Movement.

He will be greatly missed by all. RIP my friend.

– Mike Louis


Missouri AFL-CIO


If there was ever a true Labor leader who gave more of his time, energy and talent to those who needed help or advice, without asking anything in return, it was Bob Kelley. I was one of those lucky people to have worked with him, learned from him, fought with him. I’m proud to call him mentor and friend. Condolences to the Kelley family. He will NEVER be forgotten.

– Jake Hummel


Missouri AFL-CIO

Soul of Labor Movement

Working people lost a true hero today. Bob Kelley was not only the voice of Labor for so many years but was the soul of the Labor Movement.

Without Bob we could have never defeated “right-to-work” in 1978.

It was not only a pleasure to have known him but to have worked side by side with him at the Labor Council. I won’t say he will be missed because we will never forget him.

Rest in peace my friend. 

– Bob Soutier

Retired President

St. Louis Labor Council

An effective voice for workers

Bob was a great Labor leader and he help keep Organized Labor an effective force in Missouri for decades.  

He actively worked in the first fight to stop the so-called “right-to-work” and he was here to see and promote another Labor victory this past August; a fight thought to be hopeless. Thanks to Bob and to the many strong Labor leaders he helped develop, Missouri is still a place where working families have a voice in their future.

Bob will be missed, but his legacy showed up in the resounding defeat of Proposition A on August 7.

– Vince Schoemehl


City of St. Louis (1981-1993)

Eternal wisdom

It’s with a heavy heart that I make comments about the passing of one of Missouri’s premier Labor leaders, Robert Kelley. 

Some of the more important memories of Bob Kelley came when the Dee Sprayberry (Operating Engineers Local 513 business representative, deceased) and I formed the Rockwood Labor Club in 1998. Bob held annual meetings with Labor club executive boards to discuss Labor and politics.

Bob was direct in his comments on how Labor should be involved in politics and let all know the importance of holding people accountable for a Labor endorsement. That direct, frank discussion stayed with me as I became an International Rep. and then secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis Building Trades Council. 

I remember like it was yesterday when I took over for Jerry Feldhaus and Bob Kelley called me for lunch. I knew it was important, because as we sat down, he got right to the point: what was to be my priority at the building trades?

I told him I wanted to restore harmony among the union leaders in St. Louis and have a united front. Bob responded, “Good luck with that kid, but you first need to lead and others will follow if your goals are realistic.”

He went on to say that we needed something that binds us all together first, like “right-to-work” did in 1978. Second, that I should never expect 100 percent of the building trades to agree on day-to-day issues, but always remember that 50 percent plus one is the majority.

I look back at those many mentoring meetings and think about that one thing that binds us together that we will help us achieve that 100 percent majority; now I know — our RTW fights in 1978 and 2018. 

It achieved what Bob Kelley taught me, that ego’s would be put aside when you all fight for the same thing — the freedom to collectively bargain.

As I wipe the tears from my eyes writing this, I hope there is something about Bob Kelly and his eternal wisdom that can be learned from this.

– Jeff Aboussie

Regional Strategies CEO

(Retired Executive Secretary-Treasurer, St. Louis Building Trades Council)


Earl Hancock: Although he was only a picture in the papers to me I knew he was my friend too. And reading his impressive obituary I can see he dedicated his life to St. Louis and it’s laboring force. Sorry for our loss.

Terry “TJ” Bowman: No one loved our Local more than Robert Kelley! Our membership and the entire Labor Movement lost not only a “Leader” but a truly respected friend! My prayers to all!

Bill Crawshaw: A leader during some rough times, but Mr. Kelly always brought us through wiser, stronger and better for it! RIP Bob. Missouri has lost a Labor icon. My condolences to the Kelly family. Thank you for giving up your time with Bob so he could fight the good fight alongside of all us grateful Brothers and Sisters of the Labor Movement.

Pam Skinner-Weinhoffer: Prayers to the family. If there is a union in heaven we shall meet there on the other side!

David Lalumondier: Mr. Kelley improved the lives of tens of thousands of people; their grandchildren are still benefiting from Bob’s work! Enjoy your reward in Heaven my friend.

John ‘John O’ Owens: So sorry to hear this heartbreaking news, praying for family and friends, I’m sure Andy O. will be there with a smile to greet his old friend.

Tim Hollander: Bob was a wonderful man and will be greatly missed by many. God bless Bob and the Kelley family. RIP Bob.

Scott Byrne: RIP Bob. You will be sorely missed. You built a wonderful legacy for us all. It’s our turn to keep it going. I remember working closely with you when your office was at the Carpenters Hall. I was a young man with little experience, but you always treated me with the utmost respect!! Your son Michael has been doing a fabulous job of carrying on the Kelley name! THANKS BOB!

Marycarol Jones: I am sorry for your family’s loss. Your Father was an inspiration to us all, growing up I watched him lead the fight for equality. His voice was loud and fierce for those who had none. Bob Kelly was not only instrumental to the STL Labor Movement but also to many charitable organizations as well!!! He will be greatly missed!

Jim Miller: Thank you Mr. Kelly for always standing up for working people. Prays to family and friends. You will be missed. I walked and gave out literature to many homes in 1978 in South County against the “right-to-work” issue on the ballot. Many people had no idea until we talked to them about it.

Dru Nugent: We lost a great Labor union leader today. Bob lived a life that showed us all what it meant to be proud union member. Fair and respected by those that knew him. A great father and husband that brought his family up with love and respect for others. Our sympathy goes out to the family as they grieve the loss of their loved one.

Joe Larrew: Very sad news. We have lost a great man and a great leader. My deepest condolences to his wonderful family.

John Martorelli: RIP to a great Labor leader and Friend. He will be missed.

Randy Kiser: Bob Kelly was one of the first labor leaders I met when I moved to Missouri as a Staff rep for the National AFL-CIO in 1997. I appreciated the advice he gave me then and all the other times I met with him. I also considered him a good friend. Condolences to the entire Kelly family on your loss.

James E. Price Jr.: Robert Kelly was a real giant within not only the St. Louis Labor scene but nationally as well. RIP.

Roger Poole: Very sorry to hear the bad news. Bob was a great Labor Leader and a good friend he will be sadly missed. RIP. Our condolences to the family.

Anne York Zerr: So, so sad. What a champion. He led the way for labor for a generation. He was an inspiration to thousands.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top