An amazing life

From skating with the Ice Capades to calling Mother Teresa a friend, the late Sharon Elizabeth Kelley lived a very interesting life.


The remarkable 83-year life of Sharon Elizabeth Kelley concluded at Woodside Village on Nov. 17, 2020, a life where she skated with the Ice Capades, danced with the Rockettes, and was a friend and companion of Mother Teresa. She had no children, but left her precious Jack Russell terrier, Annie, and a legion of exceptional friends.

Sharon was born on June 11, 1937, fourth of four children in Bedford, N.Y., to George and Ethel (Dillon) Kelley. Their house, behind their restaurant, had a very small pond, where she taught herself to figure skate.

While at Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, where she graduated in 1955, she would often go into New York City and skate at the Rockefeller Center rink.

Skating there one day, when she was 15, someone told her that Radio City Music Hall was holding auditions for dancers and skaters to be in an ice show, and maybe even to be a Rockette.

Sharon, already with the uncommon beauty and fluent grace which would accompany her for all of her life, added three years to her age to pass for 18, and was hired. She balanced the Radio City ice show and the kick-line, all while finishing high school.

This combination saw her travel with the Ice Capades, including a European tour which led to a stint in the former Soviet Union, where she taught skating as part of a cultural exchange.

By way of her skating, she formed a lifelong friendship with Dick Button, certainly the most prominent male figure skater of the 20th century, two-time Olympic champion and five-time world champion. He is also the only non-European man to have become European champion. Their friendship would endure until her final week, when her hospice care was already in place.

However, theirs was never a romantic pairing; she had husbands for that, except maybe the first one. While she was 19 and living in New York City, she was a high-end waitress at places like the Copacabana and the Rainbow Room when not skating or dancing.

In 1956, there was a daytime TV show where beaming young couples were married on the air. Housewives would swoon as the bride and groom, which was the name of the show, pledged eternal joy and were then showered with gifts: a set of silverware, a refrigerator, and the like. In 1956, Sharon and a male friend were the magic couple. However, her family had that marriage annulled within a week. They uncoupled, split the bounty, and she went merrily into her first real marriage.

In 1957, she briefly married Donald McCauley, and lived in Massachusetts and Virginia before they parted, and she began her stint as an executive assistant in New York City. By 1965 she had wed Harry Clements, a K Street lobbyist. They lived in Virginia and Washington, D.C, where she began another career in communications and as a high-powered executive assistant. Meanwhile, in what she described as a curious adventure, Sharon had begun an enthusiastic correspondence with Mother Teresa, who would win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, and then be canonized as St. Teresa of Calcutta in 2016.

When Sharon’s marriage to Harry ended in 1970, she returned to Manhattan, and to her executive capacity with more than one Fortune 500 firm, until St. Teresa summoned her to join her and take part in establishing the Missionaries of Charity in 1976, at the Convent of St. Anthony on Union Avenue in the Bronx.

Sharon next accompanied Mother Teresa to Santa Fe, N.M., to work with the native peoples who had long suffered homelessness, alcoholism, and ultimate frustrations. There they set up a shelter and soup kitchen to better serve those who had been cast aside on the lands where they had once flourished.

Sharon vowed she would return to Santa Fe, but was called back to New York and a life more suited to her history. Alas, she fell in love again, and wed Sidney (“Bud”) Walker of Greenwich, Conn., and joined him on his 65-foot, custom-built aluminum ketch.

His lifestyle was miles from that of Mother Teresa. Bud was a good-natured sportsman. While his homeport was Greenwich, the hailing port on the stern of his magnificent craft was a city in landlocked Arizona.

The vessel, named Wanderlaar, Dutch for a traveler or wanderer, boasted a giant illustration of a Dutch boy on the spinnaker, which brought a fond smile to Sharon as she described it.

One of their most memorable voyages took Wanderlaar, captain, and crew to Bermuda, where a hideous accident befell Sharon.

While riding a motorbike with a pack of friends, Sharon drifted across the traffic line, and into the path of an oncoming truck, perhaps because of a confusion about the British fashion of driving on the left. In any case, she was terribly injured.

After months of recovery in Bermuda, then back in Manhattan hospitals, she and Bud finally rented a waterfront home in Edgartown, where she spent another few months of healing.

Her injuries from the accident in Bermuda were extensive, leaving her with one kidney and, among other things, a prosthetic shoulder. Her months on the Vineyard were long, and complicated by her husband having to leave after a few months to return to his life.

The marriage, not yet two years old, ended in divorce, and Sharon returned to New Mexico. She remained in Santa Fe, doing some work for the Olympic Committee, and serving as executive director of North American Institute, a nonprofit effort which helped facilitate trade between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, until her retirement in 2019, when she headed back to Martha’s Vineyard.

Sharon was survived by her sister Patricia, her nieces Kim and Amie of Providence, R.I., her nephew Robert of Yorktown Heights, N.Y., and her niece Aileen of Raleigh, N.C.