The man who led Shelton through the mid-1970s has died. Former Mayor Francis X. Kelley died at age 90 on Dec. 30.

Kelley was living in Marco Island, Fla., and is survived by his wife, Mary, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Kelley served as mayor from 1973 to 1977, originally becoming mayor when Vincent Tisi resigned the position to take a high-ranking position in state government. Kelley had been president of the Board of Aldermen at the time.

He oversaw City Hall during a difficult teachers strike and when an arson fire destroyed the Sponge Rubber Co. factory downtown, symbolizing the end of the city’s factory-dependent economy.

“He was a strong-minded person — strong but fair,” said Alderman Jack Finn, who has served in his position since 1985.

Frank Osak, who chaired the Planning and Zoning Commission in the 1970s, described Kelley as someone with strong opinions who often focused on conservation issues. “He had his convictions,” Osak said. “He was a tough competitor.”

Osak remembers that Kelley opposed putting an Exit 12 (Old Stratford Road) on Route 8, when the highway was being built through Shelton. They were both Democrats but often clashed on issues.

Years later, when they would see each other, the two would joke about their past differences, Osak said.

Military veteran

Kelley, who was called “Frank” by friends, grew up in Massachusetts and served in the military as a navigator in the 1940s and then in the reserves, retiring as a captain in 1970.

He and his wife of 69 years met while both were working at the local theater — Mary was the popcorn/candy girl and Frank the projectionist, his family said.

Kelley worked as an administrator and consultant with General Electric, Avco-Lycoming and ITT Corp. At Avco, he was the single point of contact for all Air Force agencies and contractors. He also was the admissions dean at Waterbury State Technical College.

In Shelton, he chaired the city’s Conservation Commission for many years. After leaving Shelton, he returned to Massachusetts before eventually moving to Florida.

Environmentalist

While living south of Boston, he helped to plant numerous shrubs and trees to prevent erosion of the dunes and beach. “He taught his children the decisions we make and the actions we perform can save or deteriorate our environment,” his family said.

Kelley liked to fish, travel, attend live music shows, and dance. “Even at 90, he and Mary would dance in the living room to the sounds of Lawrence Welk on the television,” his family said.

'Make it a better place'

“He taught our family there was a big world out there you should interact with, enjoy, and make it a better place with the talents and resources you have,” the family said.

“He not only taught that, but Frank was a fine example. … He changed lives, situations and was an inspiration to all," they said.