Never Be Fooled by the Outer Package

pool party john cropped
27 years ago….

The scene is a party I hosted for my brother who’d accepted a physician position at George Washington University Hospital. He and his family would be leaving Sudbury, Massachusetts.

We in the family all chipped in to give him this party. Only problem? My fiancée (with whom I’d bought this house seen in background) had just died. Boxes of packed items sat all about, in the home. We hadn’t even unpacked everything yet, when he’d suffered a heart attack. He lived only two days.

The irony was:  The first party in this new home was supposed to be our wedding reception.

Now, I had to pick up the considerable pieces of my shattered life….

I didn’t feel I could cancel my brother’s party. People were coming from out of town and there’d be no time for our family to get another venue.

Instead, I threw myself into getting the yard and the house ready and baking 5 calzones (they ALL went, even before the caterer’s offerings, a caterer my older brother, sister, mother and I hired.)

That’s me in the swimming pool, wearing a turquoise bathing suit and a smile (contrasting with my true state.) This picture—and what it portrays–is testament to the reality that one can’t know what’s going on, in another, by outer appearance, for this was the year that almost broke me.

I’d already gone through terrible crises—a divorce from first husband, raising my first child alone, a second difficult marriage, culminating in a two-year terminal illness with that husband.

The death of my fiancee became my 3rd. crisis.

My world (and that of my children) reverberated with terrible challenges.

But if you see this “happy pic” you’d never know it…….And I say: A snapshot of any one of us at a certain time will never tell the true nature of our well-being, for I hung onto sanity in the months ahead, by my fingernails.

From my future book, “In the Shadow of Princes.”

***And if you want to be alerted to new postings or future books (first one to come out this year will be “The Asheville Experiment,” in 2017, about Paul’s and my many year search for the perfect retirement town.) We found it but we left it, too, after 9 years. My book is a cautionary tale (with a lot of really good realtor tips, since I did that career, too) for all who consider buying and/or selling a home anywhere (yep–not just out of state.) And it’ll contain my trademark humor. If interested, pls. sign up, at top right hand corner. Your email will go nowhere else–promise.

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Guest Speaker: Colleen Kelly Mellor


leisure-learning-guest-speakingKathleen Monahan of Leisure Learning, St. Luke’s, East Greenwich, says:  “Thank you for the outstanding talk.You positively affect the lives of your audience (that was the talk from the group at lunch.) You gave us energy and courage. We laughed out loud. No one fell asleep. You connected! A good quality, very hard to achieve.You are the best. I am so grateful that our paths have crossed.”

Janet Noke at Leisure Learning, says: Speaker Colleen Kelly Mellor demonstrates ‘professionalism, quality, timeliness.’  She’s ‘very entertaining and enlightening.’ “

“I knew who you were (from my columns in the Journal) but I never realized how funny you are, in person. I loved your talk!” another said.

‘Inspiring’….’Moving”.were other observations.

As a freelance journalist, I write Op-Ed articles (mostly on educational issues) that appear regularly in the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Providence Journal. But my work’s also appeared in Wall St. Journal, Asheville, North Carolina’s  Mountain Xpress, Scripps-Howard, World News, etc.

Now I guest-speak before audiences, encouraging them to take their life experiences and ‘go higher’ on a plane of self-discovery. My talks are spirited, humor-laced, and by all accounts, ‘rollicking good fun.’

My Grandpa and the Truck children’s books have been heralded by the top international truckers’ association (OOIDA) and Women in Trucking WIT). Teachers, librarians, parents and children love them, too. The trucker/hero and I have gone before audiences of 200 children to present our lively show. My childrens’ book website is

Along with guest-speaking and freelance writing, I complete “The Asheville Experiment,” about my husband’s and my move to Asheville, NC , an artist enclave in the Blue Ridge Mountains, a town consistently on lists of “Most Popular Retirement Towns in America.”

Our story will be a cautionary tale for all those considering leaving their native state and a “must-get” for any who consider purchase/sale of a home—anywhere.

Prior to being a freelance writer, I was a 30-year secondary teacher of English and Journalism and a highly successful realtor. I’m a 15-year breast cancer survivor whose experience with that dread disease became the Cover Story in Providence Journal “Lifestyles” Sunday magazine in 2002. Widowed twice by the time I was 45, I raised two daughters as single parent.

All this makes me the perfect vehicle for engendering hope in audiences during a troubling national time.

Now, in workshops and guest-talks, I address how to make the senior years the most productive of one’s life, for I am true embodiment of my beliefs.

I welcome your contact, regarding how I might give my hopeful message to your group.

Colleen Kelly Mellor

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The ‘Mayor of Beaton St.’– John Rogers

 rogers-john-with-seidels-at-arbor(In photo: Maureen and Cliff Seidel, with elder statesman John Rogers)

He’s affectionately called Coventry’s “Mayor of Beaton St.,” but his work life began in Cranston.

Now 92 years of age, John Rogers, oldest of nine children, started work early. Raised on Aberdeen St., in a neighborhood of West Warwick that abuts western Cranston, John walked six miles to work on John Greene’s dairy farm in Cranston, to milk 150 cows. He walked the same six miles, home after work.

He was only eight years old.

Three times a week, he carried gallons of milk on that return walk.

It’s safe to say:  John Rodgers cut his teeth on that difficult work schedule.

At 18, he went into the Navy, followed that up with a stint at Nieforth Construction, and later worked at the Quonset Navy Exchange, as maintenance man, for the next 30 years.

I met this older gentleman, recently, at the Seidel home in Coventry.

Maureen Seidel had reached out to me in an email, where she said: ‘This has been on my Bucket List for some time. I always wanted someone from a newspaper to do a story on John Rogers, our own neighborhood Mr. Rogers.

She described John as a kind, gentle man ‘who made all our lives a little easier.’ He’s now moved away from his former home that was two houses down from the Seidel’s, living in Knotty Oak Village, with his wife, of 69 years—Dot (Dorothy Sousa), also of West Warwick.

He sat at the table—an affable man with an easy smile, cane nearby, apologizing ahead of time if he doesn’t recall perfectly. I marvel at yet another senior who would prove clear in so much of what he’d tell me.

I could readily see him as the type of person who’d bring a pushcart of equipment (broom, hammer, shovel) to whoever’s house was being worked on, offering his beyond-neighborly services.

In short, I wished he’d been my neighbor.

The Seidel’s told me of his wonderful acts:  the snow walkways he shoveled…the fall leaves he cleared…the windshields he scraped in the dead of winter, especially valued by Maureen who went to her work, early, as teacher assistant.

Frigid, dark winter mornings never deterred John.

And the Seidel’s were hardly his only recipients, for he did that for many on the street, causing residents  to wonder “When does John Rogers sleep?”

I asked what formed the impetus for him to be such a helper and he mentioned his own Dad, a man who adapted John F. Kennedy’s saying to: “Ask not what you can do for me but what I can do for you.”

John made that his mantra in life.

Did this quiet, unobtrusive man, John Rogers, have a mighty impact on others?

Most definitely.

Like the beloved lead character on the 50’s afternoon children’s TV show, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” John Rodgers made his life’s work helping others and the neighbors loved him for it.  According to Cliff, ‘all have their own John Rogers’ story.’

Cliff’s is when he began ripping off the bad roof off his and Maureen’s ‘starter home’ (which, many years later, they still occupy.) At 7:30AM, on that day, Cliff looked up to see his down-the-street neighbor John Rogers, equipped with tool belt, standing in Cliff’s yard, offering to help.

That help to the Seidel’s and others continued for years, hence the name Cliff and others gave John:  ‘The Mayor of Beaton Street.’.

Because of the extraordinary selflessness of John Rodgers, their neighborhood  became a real “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

We should all be that lucky.

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Why I’m ‘With Her’


My life turned out a whole lot different than I thought it would. You see, I originally thought I’d be a stay-at-home Mom,  like Elizabeth Montgomery in “Bewitched,” greeting some husband home from his day at the office, with a chilled pitcher of martinis.

Except that didn’t happen. …at all.

Instead, I was a single parent, often lacking enough money to get through the second week on my salary. You see, I never got the court-ordered, minimal support payments from my ex-husband.

I was a divorced, single parent of a young child (6 months old when I left an abusive relationship.) I had no money, slept on a mattress in our unfurnished apartment, had a car that broke down often.

I took my daughter, daily, to babysitters I paid so I could go to work; I had no network of family doing free childcare.

When I went to court to get the divorce, I sat through hearings where a judge questioned a woman needing child support for two kids who were 18 and 14. The judge told her she’d get it for the 14 year old but the older one was ‘an adult,’ now, even tho’ he was full-time in college. The judge’s answer? “You women and  kids want your rights….Now, you’ve gotta pay for them.”

He sounded bitter while I sat stunned.

In my era, women couldn’t get credit cards, without their husband’s permission—even if they had jobs. And the credit card was in husband’s name. Bank accounts were, too. Women couldn’t buy a home in their name; they couldn’t get a mortgage.

Talk about ways to diminish a woman’s self-worth. The messages were all around us.

And forget about birth control. That, too, was controlled by men. This decision about a woman’s own body was removed from her sphere—not too different, really, from what many Conservatives believe today regarding how government should regulate women’s choice—or lack thereof—though, ironically, the Republican party wants no regulation by government elsewhere (banking, health care, etc.).

Over my lifetime, I ended up being a single parent twice (second husband died, when I was only 43) and I know the road for women is not the same as men. Childcare and child illnesses were some of my biggest hurdles, disallowing me freedom to pursue higher career path. That’s why I value healthcare and though many condemn Obamacare for its problems, I know the other side has NO PLAN—just a lot of talk. In that absence, I sympathize with women who’ve had no health coverage until Obamacare and I’ll stick with Clinton, believing they will iron out the problems.

And did I mention I’ve had breast cancer at a fairly young age, a dire situation that would’ve precluded me from having any health care insurance in most instances? I’ve known many women in recent years who had to forego mammograms because they simply couldn’t afford them or they were refused insurance due to a preexisting condition. That could have been me.

Today, I am reasonably healthy and 15 years out from that scary time.

And  deeply affected by all my life events….

In conclusion, If you’re a woman in your 20’s…30’s…40’s…50’s…you might not even recognize what all the fuss is about with regard to this election.

For those of us who came earlier, we do know…

And we are supporting Hillary Clinton.

It’s not a “Gender Thing.”

It’s a “Rights-Hard-Won Thing.”


***To see Comments on Facebook, go to

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The ‘Real Fabric’ of Kent County: Its People: The DeSilva Men—

desilva-boys-we-served-best-and-brightest(Picture above shows, from left to right: Albert, Richard, Manny, Arthur, and Eddie in succession.)

To tell you the truth, I thought we might be kicked out of the Cozy Grille, on Tiogue Ave., in Coventry, when I interviewed them. Why?  Our laughter got so raucous, for the simple reason:  The De Silva “boys” are a hoot.

I can only imagine what life must have been like for their parents who raised 4 sons, longing finally, for a daughter. Alas, it wasn’t to be. That’s when the youngest—Eddie came into the world–fifth and last of the DeSilva boys.

He’s the one who contacted me, asking if I’d like to do a story on the 5 DeSilva “boys” from West Warwick who all served in the military (that’s their picture in uniform, 1 Army and 4 Navy).

They were all raised in West Warwick, across the street from Mac’s Bowl—A-Way, in the Lippitt section of West Warwick.

Their Mom was Brazilian-born Mary Branco, a Portuguese woman who emigrated to America. In Lowell, Massachusetts, she met and married Richard, Sr., a British subject from British Guiana, South America.  He, too, was of Portuguese descent.

Then, they came to West Warwick, in the wave of various ethnic groups who arrived to fill factory jobs.

Apparently, the DeSilva boys were paperboys for the Providence Journal.  As such, they turned in their weekly customer collection money to none other than my grandmother (Kelly) who acted as neighborhood bookkeeper for the newspaper (something I never knew.)

‘Stern and unforgiving’ were terms they used for her, when their amount conflicted with what her books said they owed.

Two of these “boys” had my father, John J. Kelly, as teacher and coach, and I begin to realize that in doing this series, I am learning about my own family in ways I never knew.

They’re now “up there” in age. The youngest, Eddie, 83, a retired teacher and former administrator at West Warwick Jr.High, now lives in Massachusetts. Coventry resident, Richard, 94, was a meat-cutter, by profession; and general handyman, Albert, oldest at 97 lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. The brothers visit him in winter.

The two oldest DeSilva brothers are fresh off the laying of the wreath at the grave of the Unknown Soldier, at Arlington Cemetery, on Oct. 1st. They were selected for the honor, since they’re now ‘the oldest men in New England who served in WWII. ‘

An organization flew them and bused them to the ceremony.

I asked why the younger boys switched military service affiliation, from Army to Navy.  Eddie said oldest brother, Albert, warned them “Not to be a ‘dogface’ because Army soldiers ‘dig foxholes and get into them.’ Then, ‘the rains come and they get soaked.” The brothers listened:  the next four went into the Navy.

Two middle brothers, Manny and Arthur, have since passed on.

The fact that all 5 served in the military initially intrigued me, but in interviewing them, another story emerged.

They all considered their growing up years in West Warwick, a positive experience, where they got the chance to mix with different nationalities (the ‘melting pot’ who had come to work in the mills). They feel fortunate for the opportunity to learn others’ customs, food, and traditions.

Because their parents suffered the Depression, there were few luxuries. But they all praise their parents as hard-working, with good senses of humor. The DeSilva’s were a close-knit family who enjoyed their time together.

Their Mom worked as lace spinner in Royal Mills, for years, and Dad worked at textile print works in Clyde. In 1935, after years of hard work and saving, the parents opened their own small grocery store in Lippitt, DeSilva’s Market, near the bowling alley. There, they all worked.

As such, the DeSilva’s are the true embodiment of the American Dream.

The picture below is of the 4 boys, before youngest, Eddie, came into the world, thus dashing hopes for the long-awaited girl. desilva-little-kids

The good news for the family? Four of the “boys” married Portuguese girls, so this Portuguese family got their girls, after all.

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There I Was—Back at My Father’s Childhood Church

I’m pretty amazed at my life.  I never know where the next door leads. I just keep going through doors that present, trusting…even if, at times, I hesitate. sspeterandpaul

A perfect example is what I’m embarked upon now—guest-speaking.

You see, I’d never have believed guest-speaking would become something I love. I just had too great a mountain of panic to overcome. It all started when I was a junior in high school, in Mr. Al D’Andrea’s class:

To this day, I can conjure up the fear…the anxiety.

Our eleventh grade “Problems in American Democracy” class held 30 seats and mine was the back seat in the second row, in from the door. Near the big plate glass windows. Where a cold draft blew in, in winter.

I often sat back there, quaking nervously.

I feared Mr. D’Andrea’s walking about the room, gradebook in hand, containing the roster of students in our class. On this day, his eyes swept along the column and then he called out: “Miss Kelly.”

I froze in my seat.

Slowly, I got up and walked to the front of the class, to stand at the podium,  awaiting questions which would come, rat-a-tat-tat-style,  of a rifle.

I felt the class’s eyes on me, examining my every fault and imperfection.

He asked:  “Miss Kelly, tell me what you know of the Dred Scott case.”

I said nothing.

Now, it’s important to note that at times such as this, all moisture disappeared in my Sahara Desert of a mouth. My tongue became cemented to the roof of my mouth.

He asked again.

Again, I said nothing.

After 5 punishingly-long minutes, he dismissed me.

I wanted to scream out:  “Yes, I know the Dred Scott case, and frankly, there’s nothing I dread more than being exposed before my class and you, my adored teacher….due to my fear of public-speaking.”

Instead, I slunk back to my seat.


Where am I today in all this? As a 71-year-old guest-speaker,   I love my audiences and have great fun with the people.  But I share my original fear of public-speaking as a hurdle I needed to overcome in my journey to become the person I am today. I encourage others to go forth–to conquer their own fears.

This past week, I enjoyed a wonderful night, speaking before 25 ladies (and one priest) of SS. Peter & Paul church on Highland Street, in Phenix (West Warwick, RI).

Soon, I will go before 150 women in East Greenwich, a Leisure Living group who, I’m told, will have ‘lots of questions.’

Baby steps….baby steps….

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Guest-speaking: A Hoot!

colleen kelly mellor--guest speaking poster with 5 locationsI’ve spoken at Plaza Esperanza and Wildberry Apartments in West Warwick, in past two weeks, and now will go before an audience at SS. Peter and Paul church, Highland Street, in Phenix, West Warwick, RI. on Wed. night, Oct. 19th. 7:30 PM (I’m gonna try to have them out in time for debate.) What’s so unique about this opportunity? This is my Kelly ancestors’ church where my Grandmother Kelly went (and probably my father.) I can’t wait–It’s gonna be exciting!

P.S. To book me for your event, contact me at or call 401-884-1969.


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The ‘Real Fabric’ of West Warwick: Its People–Marie and Richard Frates and Angie Bouthillier:


marie-and-richard-frates“Lovin’ the Arizona Life’

Today, these former West Warwick-ites live at the flat end of a geographic bowl, with mountains as backdrop and desert beckoning—about as different from their native town as any can be.

But Marie’s quick to note: she’s ‘only seen a snake 4 times.’

Marie Anne Frates and her husband, Richard, first came into the little town of Benson, Arizona, thirty-five years ago, a community with only one traffic light.

They rolled up to an old gas station and asked a man sitting nearby:  “Do you know where Mark Street is?” No answer. They asked two more times. Silence. The reason? (they’d find out later.) He considered them “furreigners” (yes, that’s the pronunciation.)

Why Mark Street? Marie’s West Warwick friend lived there and she recommended the town to Marie.

Richard had been hurt in a work-related accident at General Dynamics in Quonset and he and Marie believed the weather in Arizona would be better for his health (less humidity.)

With that, Marie left her many years job as office manager and dental assistant to two of the town’s dentists– Christopher and Robert Hanley.

But the Frates’s didn’t stay in Benson long; instead, they moved to Tucson, where they have a home today.

Marie’s Mom, Angeline “Angie” Bouthillier, another West Warwick-ite, finally retired, in her 60’s, from her mill job, and joined them in 2003.

Now, remember my article on Dick Hughes, a while back, where I mentioned Dick shot aerial photographs from the belly of a plane, during the war?

His photos went to Warwick Mill, in West Warwick.

Well, Marie’s Mom, Angie Boutillier, was a warper tender for many years in that very mill. She was probably there when Dick Hughes’ aerial photos arrived.

Angie tracked the threads coming from giant drums onto the spools. Today Marie laughs as she observes: “My mother still works at night (in her dreams) when one of the threads breaks on the thousands of spools and she has to fix it.”

Marie admits that living in Arizona took some getting used to.

There are the Arizona monsoons whose drenching rains threaten from the end of July through September. Then, there’s the topography of flatlands and mountains.

She freely admits:  ‘the 120 degree days of summer are tough.’ But adds: ‘Since it’s dry heat, it’s more like Rhode Island’s 95 degree days.’

In the first years, the Frates’s were lucky as they met rancher friends and an elderly couple who had a thousand-acre ranch who invited them over, often, for cattle round-up’s, bar-b-ques, and ice cream parties. The friendliness of the region (after the ‘furreigner’ incident) helped them considerably.

Their three children thrived in Arizona.

But they weren’t in Arizona consistently since they left Rhode Island, for they lived some years, in San Diego and later Riverside, California, where Richard went to college and got his Bachelor’s degree (he’s the first one of his family to do so.)

“Do they come home?” “Yes,” periodically. The picture is of them sitting on the wall at Royal Mill Condominiums, when they returned for a reunion.

Richard, Marie Anne Frates, and Angie Bouthillier—three West Warwick-ites who left our region for a vastly different one.

“Do they miss Rhode Island and specifically West Warwick?”

“Rhode Island and West Warwick will always be ‘home,’ “says Marie, but after all this time, they all now call Tucson, Arizona their new ‘home.’

In photo:  Marie Anne and Richard Frates above; warper-tender Angie Bouthillier below.


***Got someone you’d like to see up in lights? Send their name, contact info, and why you think they’d be good candidate to with “Kent County People” in subject line. Your nominee doesn’t need to be current residents..he/she should exhibit a strong connection to West Warwick/Coventry.

West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (, is a motivational speaker and freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Wall St. Journal, Scripps-Howard, and many regional newspapers. She is author to the children’s books Grandpa and the Truck ( and is regular commentator in the Providence Journal. She currently completes “The Asheville Experiment,” the story of her and her husband’s nine year life in one of America’s trendiest little retirement towns—a cautionary tale for all those who consider a move.  In this book, she tells what went wrong and why they returned to live, full time in Rhode Island. Her website is


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Native Daughter Colleen Kelly Mellor Speaks to Kent County Audiences

Many of the folks in my audiences remember my father, John J. Kelly. They paul-in-trucker-gearjust don’t remember him as I do, for they only had him as high school principal.  

I tell them I had no dates in high school, since no young man wanted to come to my home. None was that brave. I hoped the reason didn’t signal some serious defect in myself.

I tell them I stood at the podium at my 50th Class Reunion some years back  and asked:  “All right, men….I always wanted to know:  How many of you actually did want to take me out on a date, but never dared, when we were in high school?”

Hands shot up and we all laughed.

I was happy…. even if they were just being kind.

I now write about youthful memories and focus, too, on other West Warwick folks in articles that appear in the Kent County Daily Times’s Weekend edition. I’m also a regular commentator in the Providence Journal Op-Ed section.

But I’m a late bloomer as writer, for my writing career follows my 30 years as teacher and another 8 years as realtor.

I now add guest-speaker to my resume, and I have to say:  I’m loving it.

Husband Paul Wesley Gates and I went before two West Warwick audiences at Wildberry Apartments and Plaza Esperanza last week where we had a ball. While at one, a woman came up , tapped my husband on his arm, and said: “You look just like Roy Rogers.”

I laughed, inwardly, as I thought:  “That must make me Dale Evans.”

I get why she said it. He’s tall, lanky, with a Southern drawl (he’s a long-ago transplant from Arkansas who got here as a Navy Seabee.) As such, he’s a great favorite of the ladies. It helps that he wears a western hat, cowboy boots, and a leather vest with insignia sewn on.

I freely admit:  I use him for my presentations.

You see, I write about his adventures in our children’s books, Grandpa and the Truck (Books 1 and 2), for he was a long-haul, big rig driver who went all over the United States, moving households. Our books are the perfect vehicle (pun intended) to teach geography, regional differences, dialect, trucker lingo (the words we can safely use). Each story comes with guide questions, maps showing where the truck is, a moral (remember—I’m a teacher) and table of contents.

To date, we’ve published two colorfully-illustrated books, and we give lively presentations on those, too.  Our biggest audience was a 200-child school gathering in Tiverton.

Since writing/guest-speaking is my third career, it proves:  Age is no stumbling block to new experiences.

I get that message across to my audience.

My mission is to give the over-55 crowd encouragement to try their own hand at writing, for it’s my belief we all have an arsenal of stories inside, narratives that are rich in detail, almost screaming to be told.

I tell my senior students to get a writing journal and “start small,” considering “Who are the 5 people who had the most impact on you?” I then suggest they describe those five, with 2-3 phrases each.   Then, choose one person of the 5 to develop more fully.

For example, my own mother, Doris Barlow Kelly (I bring a picture of her to my presentations), would be “energetic”…”a little spitfire”….”oldest daughter of a large mill-working family” (she had 16 siblings.)

I then proceed to flesh her out and let her come alive, mentioning perhaps one funny incident of many.  I’ll share an example in future.

I like to think of writing as “painting with words.”

How’d we start off in our new guest-speaking venture? Lucy Goulet, Resident Services Co-Ordinator for Housing Opportunities Corp., looking to inject spirit into her residents at Plaza Esperanza and Wildberry Apartments invited me to speak to residents in both apartment buildings, after seeing my website (

She’s to be commended for working to enrich the lives of her residents.

As for us, we will continue “on the road” in future, guest-speaking, encouraging others to step out of their comfort zone, for we’re living embodiment of what happens when one keeps going through doors in life.

(Pic below, my Mom, Doris Barlow Kelly, appears on the left,  alongside the book jacket for Book 1 of Grandpa and the Truck.

Colleen Kelly Mellor ( will guest speak at 3 more locations in weeks ahead. If you order her children’s books through, she can  personalize-to-child and autograph them.   Contact her at email address for guest-speaking.

Picture below is of my Mom, Doris Kelly (she accompanies me ‘in spirit’ to each of my presentations) and one to right is of the lean, handsome cowboy image, Paul Wesley Gates on cover of our Grandpa and the Truck book 1. He’s the real draw at our talks–especially to the

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A West Warwick Athlete Finds Himself in the Jungles of Viet Nam

mike-montigny-ring“Welcome to Hell” was the sign he saw prominently posted at the gate at Parris Island, North Carolina.

Its message wasn’t over-the-top bluster.

Instead, it was the not-so-nice entry point telling Michael A. Montigny his life was about to seriously change. He was at this camp to learn skills that would enable him to survive deployment to Viet Nam.

The former West Warwick athlete had no serious intention of going to war but he was one of the unfortunates who weren’t already signed on to a college or university. He didn’t have powerful “others” of wealth and influence who could get him out of the precarious position.

No, instead, he was the son of a hard-working, West Warwick family.

That meant, at 18, he was available for the draft. Recognizing that, he felt it was better to die a Marine than aligned with another branch of the service. And so, he signed on and entered  the toughest arena of his young life.

Now, in 144 pages of his new book, “A Few Good Angels,” Michael A. Montigny tells how angels stepped in, at critical junctures, changing the trajectory of his life.

He’d discover:  he wasn’t to be a casualty after all.

In fact, he was to tell his story to countless others, giving hope that there just may be a higher purpose in life, after all.

What struck me so, as I interviewed Mike? That I may have figured in his story, too, for as a young college girl, home on Christmas break, I pigeon-holed the envelopes that went out to thousands of the young men in my town. I recall asking a co-worker, in my naivete: “Why’s the US government sending all these Christmas cards to the young men in our town?” Her answer? “They’re not cards—they’re draft notices. These guys are going to Viet Nam.”

I thought it especially cruel they got them during the holiday season.

I wondered if I put Mike’s letter in his family’s postal slot. I could have. I was employed when he got the notice.

What happened as I read his book? I was there with Mike as he endured tough training….I landed with him in Viet Nam where a batch of glazy-eyed Marines were leaving, only to have one of them thread through the ranks and pick out Mike to give him a ring—a ring that the Marine said saved his life, a ring Mike still wears.

I noted the foxhole that blew up and killed a fellow soldier shortly after Mike left it; I saw the killer cobra stare fixedly at Mike, in the cave, until a mouse distracted it; I knew the power of the prayer beads.

The stunner for me? It could have been me going through all this.  If not for my gender (women didn’t fight in combat during this period) and the fact I was a college student, I could have been in those jungles, suffering those hardships—the  terrible psychological and physical trauma from which many never recovered.

If they did come home, many were mortally wounded in other ways, never fully recovering.

I could have been West Warwick’s Mike Montigny.

Just another foot soldier in a very foreign land.

If not for fate.

Mike speaks of the time that he, as uniformed soldier, came home aboard a commercial airliner and the captain invited him to sit in 1st class, as means of thanking him for his service. When other passengers balked  (Viet Nam was in disfavor,) he moved to the back of the plane. Today, he notes the far different tenor of the country that sees young people at the beach who see his Marines tattoo on his arm honor him for his service of many years ago.

Today, this former Vice President of Human Resources, Amtrol has a message he delivers. It’s important. Instead of focusing on the terrible things he had to overcome, he notes the positives…the wonders…the forces…the ‘angels’ that led him out and protected him. One he highlights as most instrumental? His wife of many years—Sandra (Boutello) Montigny who saw him through many dark times following Viet Nam, times that precipitated his giving up both drinking and smoking.

Is his message finding fertile soil?

Well, if audience size determines likelihood of success, Mike is already a best-selling author. At Valley Country Club, where Mike had a recent book signing, his crowd swelled to 150. Why was he at this particular venue? He is a a member there and current vice-president. In September, this new author became president of Rhode Island Golf Association. That sizeable group, coupled with his many friends from his former employment at Amtrol, and countless others he’s helped through his life, insure he has a loyal fan base.

I know—I’m one of his admiring fans.marine_mike mike-montigny-with-rifle


***Got someone you’d like to see up in lights? Send their name, contact info, and why you think they’d be good candidate to with “Kent County People” in subject line. Your nominee doesn’t need to be current resident..he/she should exhibit a strong connection to West Warwick/Coventry.

West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (, is a motivational speaker and freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Wall St. Journal, Scripps-Howard, and many regional newspapers. She is author to the children’s books Grandpa and the Truck ( and is regular commentator in the Providence Journal. She currently completes “The Asheville Experiment,” the story of her and her husband’s nine year life in one of America’s trendiest little retirement towns—a cautionary tale for all those who consider a move.  In this book, she tells what went wrong and why they returned to live, full time in Rhode Island.

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