Patricia J. Kelly, 79, of Villanova,  who began a career in law at age 49 and was the wife of senior U.S. District Judge Robert F. Kelly, died Saturday, Feb. 17, of dementia at Bryn Mawr Terrace.

Patricia J. Kelly
Courtesy of the family
Patricia J. Kelly

Mrs. Kelly was born in Philadelphia, the youngest daughter of William and Catharine Henkel. She graduated first in her class from West Catholic High School and won a scholarship to attend Immaculata College, where she earned a bachelor's degree in English.

In 1963, she married Robert Kelly, at that time a lawyer in private practice in Delaware County. He became a Common Pleas Court judge in Delaware County before his 1987 appointment to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan.

Mrs. Kelly was proud to be his wife. "There was this mutual respect that they shared," said daughter Johanna Kelly-Schwalm.

The couple raised four children, and while caring for her family, Mrs. Kelly earned a master's degree in English from Villanova University. She taught briefly at Merion Mercy Academy and Notre Dame Academy, both on the Main Line.

At the age of 49, Mrs. Kelly, who thrived on intellectual challenge, made an about-face from teaching and decided to go to law school.

After obtaining her degree from Villanova Law School, she embarked on a career as an attorney specializing in estate and tax law.

In the 2000s, she worked for Crawford, Wilson & Ryan in West Chester. She handled individual, not corporate, clients.

"She was a great person to work with and a terrific attorney," said her former law colleague Kevin J. Ryan. "She had an eye for detail."

"This was the ideal job because her sharp mind loved solving legal problems and her sociable nature loved working with people," said daughter Elizabeth Kelly-Penot.

Mrs. Kelly, who was known as "Pat," enjoyed reading detective stories, writing, touring Europe, and researching family history. She was an intrepid do-it-yourselfer, especially when it came to home decorating.

"She put wallpaper up, she took wallpaper down," said daughter Kelly-Schwalm. "If something had to be done, she learned to do it."

Despite not being a "math" person, as Mrs. Kelly liked to say, she taught herself how to troubleshoot her computer.

"We were the last in our neighborhood to get cable, but the first to get a computer," said Kelly-Schwalm. "My mom taught all of us how to use it. She was our IT person."

Most of all, Mrs. Kelly was devoted to family and loved creating memorable experiences for her grandchildren. "They were the light of her life," Kelly-Schwalm said.

In addition to her husband and daughters, Mrs. Kelly is survived by sons Robert Kelly Jr. and Owen Kelly; four grandchildren, two sisters, and many nieces and nephews. A sister died earlier.

A visitation starting at 9 a.m. Friday, Feb. 23, will be followed by a 10 a.m. Funeral Mass at St. Thomas of Villanova Church on the Villanova University campus, Lancaster Avenue, Villanova. Interment will be in Calvary Cemetery, West Conshohocken.