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Remembering Pat Kelly, Whistler’s ‘every-day hero’

The longtime local realtor died April 13 at 66 years old

Even from a young age, at a distance, to a stranger, Pat Kelly stood out.

“Actually, the first time, I didn’t meet Pat, I saw Pat,” remembered longtime friend Doug Forward.

It was at a high-school basketball game in 1975. Forward was attending Argyle Secondary in North Vancouver, watching his school face off against rival Sentinel from West Vancouver.

Argyle was one of the top teams in the province at the time, but Sentinel held its own that night, thanks largely to the efforts of one player.

“Pat was the reason. He stood out to me, as a person in the audience, as a guy who was a great athlete,” said Forward, who would go on to attend the University of British Columbia with Kelly, pledging the same fraternity.

“I think he should have a very strong legacy, because he was a great leader, and a great businessperson, and a great friend.”

Kelly, former longtime owner of the Whistler Real Estate Co. and a constant reassuring presence in the communities of Whistler and Pemberton, passed away April 13 at Vancouver General Hospital. A nagging November cough was originally thought to be pneumonia, before Kelly’s condition worsened and he was diagnosed with lung cancer on March 12.

He died one month later at 66 years old, survived by wife Julie and daughters, Shannon and Heather.

“He was a really good dad, and he was very proud of [seeing us succeed],” Shannon said. “He worked hard and he worked a lot … but it was important to him that he was there and present.”

He was always looking to teach his two daughters, Heather added.

“He always had a lesson, or a perspective that he thought we might want to hear, something that might help us,” she said.

“He did everything that he could to help us succeed.”

Striving for success

That mindset extended to Whistler itself—the community Kelly adopted as his own in 1980—and in turn, Pemberton, where he lived his later years.

Kelly was one of the first people Julie, then Julie Mantoani, met when she moved to Whistler in the winter of 1987.

“He was building a house on Fissile in Alpine, and I was looking for a place to live,” she recalled.

“I ended up renting his old suite on Eagle Drive … so he was like one of the first guys I met there.”

Kelly’s friends and family describe an intelligent, well-read, driven man, always striving for improvement—for himself and all around him.

“He was a taskmaster—he started every day by reading, keeping up on current events, following up on emails. Even after he retired, he was disciplined about keeping structure,” Julie said.

“He wanted his family to succeed, but he wanted that for everybody, every business.”

Drew Meredith, former Whistler mayor and longtime local realtor in his own right, hired an inexperienced Kelly to work at his company MacGregor Pacific Realty in 1981, “and I’ll tell ya, 1981 would have probably been the worst time in the history of mankind to become a realtor, in Whistler anyway,” Meredith said, noting the infamous recession that crashed the market and sent interest rates soaring to 22 per cent.

Always resourceful, Kelly took a job washing dishes at local restaurant the Creperie (today Joe Fortes) to make ends meet.

“In 1981, you weren’t legally allowed to have another job when you were a realtor, but he did, because he had to,” Meredith said. “I mean, how can you possibly feed yourself if there’s no deals coming through the door?”

MacGregor Pacific morphed into the Whistler Real Estate Co., and the two men became partners until Kelly bought the company outright in 1999.

“Pat and I were partners forever. He was the educated one, so he used to want to run it like General Motors, but I was the uneducated one … but we did quite well together, obviously,” Meredith said with a laugh.

“He ran a real-estate company for a number of years; that’s no easy feat,” Meredith said. “You’ve got to be able to roll with the punches, because the market is not always up, and he did that quite successfully, and managed to keep a very strong stable of realtors there for a long time.”

The former mayor chalked Kelly’s success up to his education and honesty.

“A good realtor is being honest. Pat could not tell a lie if he tried,” he said. “He was almost honest to a fault, in that, you know, sometimes you gotta paint the picture a little more rosy than it is, but he would never do that.”

The View From Here

Kelly sold the Whistler Real Estate Co. to Wendi Warm in 2020, and though he wasn’t able to properly celebrate the milestone due to COVID, his kids noticed a change as he adjusted to retirement.

“Since he retired, I personally saw a huge shift in the way that he approached life, and in the way that he just relaxed into himself a little bit more,” Shannon said. “He was no longer so stressed … this is what makes me so sad about this, is that he was only 66, and the next 10 years probably would have been some of the best years of his life, because he didn’t have that business, that obligation anymore, and he was just relaxed.”

Heather noticed it, too.

“He stopped giving me shit about my tattoos,” she joked.

“Dad was always somebody who wanted to see quantifiable improvement.”

That constant drive for progression and improvement, and quantifiable results, was evident in The View From Here—a series of in-depth, all-afternoon speaker presentations bringing together all the latest data and insights from the top minds in business, real estate, economics and more.

Originally organized by Kelly for WREC clients, the event grew so popular the company was soon fielding inquiries from all over town about how to snag a seat.

“And that was all Pat, right? Pat was all about statistics, and all about the truth about the market, whereas other people would tend to say the market is running along just beautifully even when it isn’t,” Meredith said.

“He was very good about that, but people liked that. They loved coming and hearing about other independent, third-party speakers talking about the world economy and how it might affect Whistler, and yeah, that was his baby.”

‘He made the arts important’

When Maureen Douglas, now executive director of Arts Whistler, was working as Tourism Whistler’s director of festivals in the ’90s, finding talent to book was a challenge, and the arts sector something of an afterthought.

She credits Kelly, both for his financial contributions and his advocacy, for helping nurture it into all it is today.

In the days before the Whistler Excellence Awards, Kelly was presented Arts Whistler’s “Champion of the Arts” award for his efforts.

“There’s some folks who need to hear the economic argument for the arts—and there’s one there, there absolutely is—but when somebody like Pat Kelly, who people, you know, they look at him and know he’s a savvy, successful businessperson, and he’s there advocating for the arts and not just speaking about it, but he’s literally putting his money where his mouth is, that definitely made other businesses within the local community sit up and take notice,” Douglas said. “And it made opening doors for not just us, but other arts organizations that much easier.

“He made the arts important.”

It wasn’t just the arts; Kelly gave back in a variety of ways, whether coaching basketball, being a volunteer firefighter, or on one of the many boards and committees on which he served over the years—most recently the Whistler Community Foundation, where he was poised to take the lead on a Pemberton-specific initiative.

Just as Whistler did before it, Kelly’s new community of Pemberton held a special place in his heart, and when he saw it was in need of a Notary Public, he took up the mantle himself as another way to give back.

“So much of it came from that anchor for him: That in order to have Whistler thrive, it has to have more balance in the community,” Douglas said.

Achieving that balance was incredibly fulfilling to Kelly, Shannon said.

“He cared so much about leaving Whistler better, and investing in the community,” she said. “And he really believed that investing in the community is a way to leave a legacy and to have a purpose and to find happiness, and he worked at that every day.”

While the Kelly most knew may have been the buttoned-up, all-business version, those close to him describe a wry sense of humour, and a playfulness you might have to poke a bit to get at.

“Pat Kelly, actually, he cracks me up, and that might not be the Pat Kelly that people think of right away,” Douglas said with a laugh. “But if you knew Pat, he had that very stoic, together exterior, but he had this very dry wit. I just loved talking to him.”

The every-day hero

Kelly’s closest friends say they always saw that side of him, though it really started to show after he met Julie and had the kids.

“I think the family served to take some of the seriousness out of Pat. I think anybody would say that,” Forward said. “Julie was a great match for Pat—she made him a better person, I think.”

Longtime Whistlerite Doug O’Mara has known Kelly the better part of four decades, their real estate and construction worlds overlapping from time to time, but it was through sports the men first truly bonded.

“We played on the men’s basketball team, we played golf together … Pat was good at everything,” O’Mara said.

The two men were founding members at Pemberton’s Big Sky Golf Club, and attended an annual golf vacation of about 25 Whistler guys.

“And Pat was a prolific winner at that one,” O’Mara said.

“He could hit it long and straight—he was a very good golfer.”

Forward talked about a different annual golf trip, attended mostly by he and Kelly’s old fraternity friends, called the “Hoagie Classic.”

Kelly’s own unique scoring system, dubbed the “Kellyway System” as a play on the Callaway System for golf handicaps, ensured anybody could win in any given year, Forward said—but Kelly still notched his share of victories.

“He had a gorgeous golf swing,” Forward remembered.

Golf was one of Kelly’s biggest passions, a hobby O’Mara chalked up to his excellent hand-eye coordination and the camaraderie of it.

“Pat was quite an opinionated guy, but his opinions were really well thought out, and usually right on the mark,” he said.

“He was a very smart guy, but also very personable and caring about people. And those qualities made him a very good leader.”

That sentiment is reflected by WREC’s current owners, Phelan Regan and Emilie LaJoie.

“Pat was instrumental in building an incredible company, and really shaping the real-estate landscape in the Sea to Sky corridor,” Lajoie said. “He truly is a real-estate legend.”

Kelly, along with Ann Chiasson of Re/Max, was also instrumental in building the Whistler Listing System, Regan said.

Looking at market data is one thing, “but the historical context as to how Whistler has become a truly global superpower in [real estate], you’re losing one of the main torchbearers from the history side of things,” he said.

The absence of Kelly’s institutional knowledge is already being felt at WREC.

“There was a question this morning from one of our agents who was trying to figure out who built one of the hotels in town, and it was not in any of the disclosure statements or in our historical records or anything,” Lajoie said.

“But I’m sure Pat would have known.”

Kelly’s family will be exploring a donation to the Whistler Community Foundation, Pemberton branch, with a designation to the Pemberton Health Centre. Donations are welcome to the Whistler Community Foundation in his honour, "a board he sat on and a cause which he believed in," the family said.

“I think people will remember him as incredibly well-rounded, a family guy, a businessman, an athlete, intelligent, and nice at the same time. He had a lot of good, longtime friends here, and his family is great. He just made a lot of very good decisions in his life, and it’s a shame that it happened so fast,” O’Mara said.

“I think Pat was one of those guys where it wasn’t that he created something hugely momentous in his life, it’s just that every day was really, really good and special.

“The every-day hero.”

A celebration of life is scheduled for June 21 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.