Hundreds mourn passing of marathon legend Johnny Kelley

Boston Marathon icon Johnny Kelley was laid to rest yesterday on Cape Cod in front of 300 friends, family members and running partners.

"They gave him a great send-off," said Cape Cod Athletic Association president and close friend Joe Weinberger. "They played 'Young at Heart' as he left the church. It was his signature song and it fit Johnny perfect."

Kelley, who completed the Boston Marathon 58 times with two victories, died Wednesday at 97.

"It was a real bittersweet celebration because of course we are all sorry that he passed away, but at the same time it is a celebration," said Guy Morse, executive director of the Boston Athletic Association. "He was such an inspiration for runners ... that it is a time to celebrate his existence."

After a funeral Mass at Our Lady of the Cape Catholic Church in Brewster, family members and close friends gathered to bury Kelley in an intimate graveside service in the Quivet Neck Cemetery in Dennis.

"I had the good fortune to have breakfast with him a few days before he passed away," said Morse, who spoke at the graveside service and was a pallbearer at the funeral. "He was talking about what a wonderful life he had and how he had no regrets."

Named the "Runner of the Century" by Runner's World magazine, Kelley finished in the top 10 of the Boston Marathon 18 times, ran in the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany and was an inspiration to countless runners.

"He influenced a lot of people," said the Rev. Bernard Baris, who celebrated the funeral Mass. "The young and the old and everyone in between."

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