They buried Harry Kelley today but not his pink suit.
The suit now belongs to Venson Purnell, who for 15 years worked as janitor at City Hall. Three weeks ago, Purnell was the surprised recipient of the garish slacks and jacket that the seven-term mayor wore when he roamed the state running for governor in 1982.
"I guess he had some feeling in the back of his mind," said Purnell, "because he called me in and told me, 'I've lost about 40 pounds. My clothes don't fit, and I'd rather see you have them than anyone I know.'
"He specified this pink suit," added Purnell, "and then when the honorary pallbearers' list came out, my name was on it."
Kelley, 66, died Wednesday of arteriosclerosis while vacationing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Today he lay in state in the City Hall rotunda, dressed in the red blazer he often wore at work; a golden key to the city was draped across his hand. More than 1,000 mourners filled City Hall and the neighboring Methodist Church to bid farewell to the resort town's lifelong resident and most vociferous booster.
Purnell was one of the early ones, resplendent in the pink suit. Others who paid their last respects were Gov. Harry Hughes, former governor Marvin Mandel, U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D), U.S. Rep. Roy Dyson (D), state Comptroller Louis Goldstein and Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer.
They couldn't have asked for a better day to bury a man to whom skies were always fair or soon to be fair. "There was never a 50 percent chance of rain with Mayor Kelley," said his longtime secretary, Viola Thomas. "It was always a 50 percent chance of sunshine."
Skies were suitably 100 percent sunny this afternoon, drawing revelers to the ocean-front boardwalk.
The strollers were assailed earlier in the day by the wail of sirens and the flash of lights as a police motorcade bearing Kelley's body roared up Ocean Highway from the Ocean City inlet to the Delaware line.
Later, eulogies and church incantations boomed from public address systems mounted along Baltimore Avenue, as small crowds gathered on the sidewalk to listen.
The public memorial service was conducted at City Hall, which was fitting. Before it was City Hall, it was the elementary school and high school Kelley attended and graduated from. And before he was mayor, he was a member of the City Council for 16 years.
"He spent about half his life in this building," remarked Worcester County Circuit Court Judge Dale Cathell, who delivered the principal eulogy.
Kelley's death marks more than a political passage for this booming city. It marks the passing of a generation as well. Few remain here who can remember the days before 1933 when Ocean City had no inlet to the sea, when it was a sleepy fishing town with a few wooden hotels.
"Harry Kelley hired me as the eighth man on the Beach Patrol in 1934," recalled Franklin Savage, a retired railroad man. "He was 15 at the time and I was 14."
The following year, Kelley hired Robert Craig, who is Beach Patrol captain today. "He was a whale of a swimmer," said Craig. "The amazing thing about Harry, his chest was the same size expanded as it was normal. We'd swim from the Commander Hotel to the old Coast Guard station 16 blocks and the closest I ever came to him was about a half-block."
Kelley was buried in the family crypt in neighboring Berlin. Later, his admirers returned to City Hall where a repast of crab balls, fried chicken and other morsels was open to all.