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Dollie Kelly and family to walk Missoula Half Marathon in honor of late husband, daughter

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Dollie Kelly and Leslie Murphy

Dollie Kelly, left, and Leslie Murphy, right, will walk this weekend's Missoula Half Marathon in honor of late family members Con Kelly and Laurie Johnson who passed away in the past month. 

MISSOULA — It had always been the plan for Dollie Kelly and her daughter Leslie Murphy to walk this weekend's Missoula Half Marathon.

Before the past two years when the Missoula summer tradition had to take a hiatus because of the pandemic, Kelly, who's not the typical 89-year-old, and members of her family took on numerous half marathons and 10-plus mile hikes. This year, it took some convincing from her family though.

Over the past month, Kelly lost both her husband of 37 years Con Kelly and her eldest daughter Laurie Johnson. Johnson passed away just weeks ago suddenly in Portland, Oregon, and Con Kelly died in late May in Missoula after a lengthy battle with cancer. 

Though not a runner himself, Con, a former priest who was born and raised in Butte and attended Butte Central Catholic, was an avid sports fan and follower of local happenings in the Missoula sports scene. Dollie noted he would always be sure to read and comment on Missoulian sports editor Bill Speltz's columns.

Con had no biological children of his own, but he considered Dollie Kelly's his own as the family held a close bond together.

Dollie Kelly was more of the hiker, often going about 10 or 12 miles at a time with her other daughter Murphy. Previously Murphy and Johnson, described as the most social one in the family, along with the rest of their family would embark on yearly hiking excursions in the summer. It's a tradition that  will continue in a different form at the half marathon Saturday.

"It was so funny; I kinda pushed her a lot," Murphy said. " ... My mom is an amazing woman — very strong and very loving. She's just incredible."

Now the hikes are where Dollie Kelly meditates and prays and when she can find calm and reflect. It's part of her grieving process. 

Through the grief of losing both her husband and daughter, she admitted it took a heart-to-heart talk with family to convince her to stay in this year's Missoula Half Marathon.

"Frankly, I didn't want to do it," she said. "They talked me through it. ... I thought 'Oh man, I can't do this,' but my son he just got me out for a long walk, said 'You can do this. You won't let anyone down.'"

They believed it was something Con, a self-described sports nut, and Johnson, who finished three marathons, would have wanted them to go through with.

"We are doing it in honor of them and just as a tribute to them," Dollie Kelly, who also lost two of her sons over a decade ago just five years in between, said. " ... It's hard but it really helps. It's better than sitting in a pity pot. We all will be together and that will be so wonderful."

Her son and his family will join her and his sister's family with green banners on their shoulders that say "Con and Laurie, heavenly angels" on Saturday.  

"I said to her, 'Mom, we are going to do this and we are going to do this for Laurie and Con and it's going to be a really special time,'" Murphy said.

Murphy, a counselor who lives in Great Falls, sees the process as important for not just her mom but herself as she grieves the loss of her stepfather and only sister.

"I miss my sister terribly," she said. "I want to be there to support my mom who has worked really hard and has lost Con and a daughter. I just feel like Con was such a strong supporter, real positive (and) I want to support my sister too. She really wanted to be here and do this half marathon with us. ... It's going to be wonderful and it is going to be really touching to do it for them."

Lance Hartzler covers Griz men's basketball and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter at @lance_hartz or shoot him an email at Lance.Hartzler@406mtsports.com.

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