4 January 2011
1 hour, 19 minutes, 3 seconds
Ireland House Oral History Collection, Archives of Irish America, New York University
Ray Kelly was born in New York City in 1941 and grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and in the Sunnyside section of Queens. He attended Archbishop Molloy High School and graduated from Manhattan College in 1961. In 1963 Kelly joined the New York Police Department and enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves. He served in combat in Vietnam in 1965 and after 30 years of service retired from the Marines as a Colonel in 1993.
Commissioner Kelly holds a number of advanced degrees, including a JD from St. John's University School of Law, LLM from New York University, and honorary degrees from Marist College, Iona College, the State University of New York (SUNY), and Catholic University of America, among others.
He has worked in a diverse range of positions in corporate, national and international security, including serving as Director of the International Police Monitors in Haiti (1994-1995), Under Secretary for Enforcement in the US Treasury Department (1996-1998), Commissioner of the US Customs Service (1998-2001) and Senior Managing Director for Corporate Security at Bear Stearns Companies, Inc. (2000-2001).
Kelly was appointed Commissioner of the New York Police Department in 1992 by Mayor David Dinkins and again in 2002 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He is the only commissioner in the history of the NYPD to serve two non-consecutive terms. Following the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, Commissioner Kelly became known for developing innovative counterterrorism initiatives in the NYPD, utilizing technology and global intelligence networks.
Commissioner Kelly was the Grand Marshal of the New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade in 2010. His grandparents came to New York from Counties Cavan, Roscommon, and Longford. He has two sons, Greg and James, and lives in Manhattan with his wife Veronica.
Working in the NYPD and Irish American serviceDisc 1: Track 2, 03:28-05:27
Transcription of Excerpt No. 1
RK: I had a lot of exciting times in the [New York Police] Department. My intention – I never started out in the department with the goal of staying in it for a long time. I sort of wanted to get a law degree and then I'll look around. But when I received the law degree I'd already been promoted, I had two children then, and I was having a lot of fun. I enjoyed it. It's very exciting. I think more than anything I enjoyed the excitement, the adrenaline flow, and also the things that people say are true. The opportunity to make a difference, to help other people, it's all there. It's real. I think it motivates a lot of people and I think it motivates a lot of Irish Americans, quite frankly, to be in public service.
LDA: The police force is certainly identified as an Irish American profession, or has been.
RK: Well interestingly, the police department started in 1845, and in 1845, twenty six percent of the people in New York City were born in Ireland and of course had the benefit of speaking English. So it was sort of ready-made for Irish immigrants to become police officers.
VF: Did you have any relatives who had served in the police force before you?
RK: No. I remember somebody interviewed me when I was police – I was police commissioner twice – some TV reporter was interviewing me, saying, "Well it's all about who you know in the police department." You know, you have your relatives and everybody helps everybody else. Well I'm sitting here, I'm the police commissioner and I've never had any relatives in the police department at all.
VF: Did you feel like you were entering into a history of Irish service when you entered the police force?
RK: You know, I don't know if I consciously thought about it but certainly in those days it was a lot more Irish-centric or Irish-focused than it is now. The Emerald Society was probably the dominant fraternal organization. Virtually all of the upper level executives were Irish, from the commissioner on down. It's not something that I consciously thought of, but when you look back on it, it was obviously the case. It was an organization that – this is in the '60s now, and '70s – still was very much dominated by Irish Americans.
Memories of September 11, 2001Disc 1: Track 5, 0:00-4:19
Transcription of Excerpt No. 2
RK: The building that I lived in then, which is a block away from the World Trade Center Site... My wife was in Europe at the time. Knowing her, she would have been right over there. As a nurse she would have been trying to help people, so thank God that's where she was.
LDA: And your children obviously were grown and not at the apartment? Nobody was there.
RK: Yeah. I had left the apartment at about eight o'clock and I had left the windows open by about that much. And we actually looked south. I was able to come back the next day. I didn't know – I didn't have any place to go. My son Gregory was a TV reporter with New York One, so I was concerned about him. Both of my sons were working. Gregory was doing something at that time, I didn't know exactly what, and Jim, my son, was working downtown and I couldn't contact him. I later in that day saw my son on television, so I knew he was okay.
RK: Greg, yeah.
LDA: That must have been wild. The only way to see if your son was okay was to see him on TV.
RK: So I had no place to go. I was at work in the office [at Bear Stearns] and I got a call from CNN. They wanted me to go on CNN, and I said, "I have no place to stay." They said, "Well we will put you in a hotel," which was the Hotel New Yorker, on 34th Street and 8th Avenue. "We'll give you a room there if you come on with us." So I did that. I had nothing, no clothes or anything, and I went to the hotel. But I mean it was such a traumatic – I was lucky that I had some place to stay. I assume that all the hotels would be filled. And then I went on television that night. You could see this eerie glow from downtown, you know. By that time I knew – I had seen my son Gregory and I knew my son Jim was okay. He had called me in the office later in the afternoon.
LDA: Did he work downtown?
RK: He worked on John Street, yeah. He just walked up north. So the next day I needed clothes, so I was able to make a phone call to the police department and they took me down there. We lived on the sixteenth floor, so I went on up and went into the apartment. The apartment was totally [covered in] white powder, even though I had left the window open just a little bit. For me it was just evidence, proof of the ferociousness of what happened, you know? And then my wife came back towards the end of the month. I took her back to a roof and we looked down on the World Trade Center. It was just such a jolting sight, for her and for me.
Identifying as Irish AmericanDisc 1: Track 7, 04:18-05:53
Transcription of Excerpt No. 3
VF: Did you grow up identifying as Irish American very strongly?
RK: Not very much. First of all, I was the youngest of the family. My grandparents, the last living one, died when I was four or five, so I had very little contact with them. My parents were born here. I've been to Ireland twice but that's only in later life. So I can't say that I did. I think my brothers didn't, and my sister more than I did. The neighborhood changed, the neighborhood became more diverse. But it is interesting when I look back because it's clear that – my grandparents were from Roscommon, from Cavan and Longford, and everyone who came here tried to escape the poverty that was so crushing. I was out running this morning – fast walking, this morning – and I passed the Great Hunger Memorial. I do that a lot, and it's kind of a jolting reminder of what got them here, the Potato Famine. So, you know, it's probably more so in later life that I've reflected back on it.
- Virginia Ferris [VF]
- Linda Dowling Almeida [LDA]