KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — Big-hearted, gravel-voiced and a fierce champion for her family and the community, Jackie Kellet died Saturday. She was 72.
Jaqueline Ann “Jackie” (Stevens) Kellett lived her entire life in the Kennebunks, and was well-known by many in the extended community. A mother of six children, and grandmother of 14, she was predeceased by her husband, her parents, her sister and two brothers, one daughter and two granddaughters.
Jackie died at home Saturday surrounded by her family and friends.
“We all took care of her until the end. She wanted it that way and she died peacefully,” grandson Jacob Mitchell said. “Her family meant the most to her, and she meant the most to us.”
Jackie’s daughter, Leslie Pepin, said that her mother was a woman ahead of her time.
“She did it all,” she said. “She raised six kids in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s and worked full-time. She always welcomed kids or anyone who strayed and needed a place to stay into her home. She treated everyone the same — it didn’t matter to her whether you were rich or poor. She liked you for you.”
Her son, Mark Kellett, said his mother was a “tell-it-like-it-is lady.”
“She was no-nonsense. It was never about being politically correct with her, it was about belief and she said and did what she believed was the right thing to do, no matter what.”
Jackie’s personality and presence was unmistakable. Though short in stature, Jackie was a formidable woman who commanded respect. Her deep, husky voice was not easily forgotten. Well-known for her role as one of the founders of Kennebunkport’s annual Christmas Prelude, Jackie was also involved with local politics. She served as a member of the school board from 1976 to 1979 and also served on many other boards and committees. She was also heavily involved with local athletic boosters over the years, raising money for whatever was needed by the sports teams her children were involved with.
“Jackie was a personal friend of mine for over 30 years and she will be sadly missed in the community,” said Kennebunkport Selectman Allen Daggett. “She was always a ‘go get it done’ type of person. Had a huge passion for the community and the people that lived here. You always knew where you stood with Jackie, she always said what was exactly on her mind. She was a great mom and took very good care of her family.”
Longtime friend Sheila Matthews-Bull served on many committees with Kellett.
“She was the past president of the Kennebunkport Business Association, and the chairman and backbone of Christmas Prelude — she was the instigator to make it [Prelude] bigger and better each year,” she said. “She was also my mentor. I called her for advice on many levels.”
Kennebunkport Town Clerk April Dufoe said Kellett always gave back to the community she called home.
“She was a wonderful person,” she said. “She did a lot for the town in her day. She always made me laugh. She had more stories than anyone I know. She loved Kennebunkport. I’ll miss her.”
“Over the years the town managers would even call her for her input,” Mark Kellett recalled. “She was that much in touch with the community.”
Jackie was known to use colorful language on a regular basis, and she didn’t hold back for anyone — not even school board members.
“One time while running for the school board she was questioned about her frequent use of one particular swear word, and my mother responded by answering, ‘I promise I will do my best to use the word [expletive] as little as possible,’” Mark Kellett remembered with a laugh.
Jackie made her decisions for the school board first and foremost from her heart, he said, and she delivered her opinions passionately.
“She always put the best interest of the children above all,” Mark Kellett said.
Heather Swanson of Kennebunkport said she respected Jackie’s style.
“I admired her for her audacity and shoot-from-the-hip style,” she said. “You always knew where you stood with her.”
An accomplished and well-respected businesswoman, for many years Jackie owned and operated a women’s clothing boutique — Jandies — and the ever-popular Lobster Pot restaurant in Cape Porpoise. She was also an interior decorator specializing in paint, wallpaper, curtains and color schemes.
Former employee Christina Owens Salisbury said that Kellett was much more than a boss to her.
“To say that she deeply touched my heart would be an understatement,” she said. “She instilled in me my great work ethic, and if you knew Jackie you knew that she expected the best out of you at all times.”
Shelley Alley also worked for Kellett.
“She was tough as nails on the outside and would put the fear of God into most men, but she had the kindest heart when you got to know her,” she said.
Her grandson, Jacob Mitchell, described his grandmother in one word: remarkable.
“She was always so much more than a grandmother to me — she was my best friend,” he said.
“All I can say is she was a straight shooter. She called it like she saw it and wasn’t afraid to voice her opinion, no matter who she offended or the vulgarity she used,” said grandson Zac Kellett. “My grandma was and still is the strongest woman I know; she’ll forever hold a special place in my heart due to all the things she’s done for me. She was more than just a grandmother to me, she was more like my mother. Since I grew up without one, she filled the void with her unique love and criticisms tenfold and she will be greatly missed and forever in our hearts.”
Nephew Allen Shaw said he has never met anyone quite like his aunt.
“She was a unique, creative, one-of-a-kind soul who had an amazing laugh that would draw you in and keep you in with her stories,” he said.
Kellett was also a wonderful cook, and former President George H.W. Bush was one of the repeat customers at her restaurant, along with many locals.
“She had, by far, the best lobster stew I have ever tasted. I have never found one to rival hers,” said Lesley Brown of West Kennebunk.
Of the many admirable qualities that Jackie Kellett possessed was her authenticity. She was a woman who showed love in her own way, family members said, and those who were fortunate enough to receive it will never forget it.
“I was so blessed to have Jackie for an aunt. She taught me respect and tolerance in her special way with gritty humor and a little muscle,” her niece Kacey Shields Shaw said.
Nonantum Sales Manager Tim Ames recalled a poignant moment that exemplified Kellett’s approach.
“Two years ago I received a call from Jackie that her daughter had died. She was looking for a place to hold a reception following the service. She brought her grandson Jake to meet with me at the Nonantum and she let him make all the decisions regarding his mom,” he said. “I looked at it as Jackie using it as a teaching moment for Jake. She was there to offer a shoulder but let this young man be in control. She empowered him. Here she was burying her own child but was doing what was best for Jake — a truly amazing human being.”
A memorial service for Jackie Kellett will be held at 1 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31, at St David’s Church in Kennebunk. A reception will follow at the Rhumbline in Kennebunkport.
Should friends desire, memorial donations may be made to the Dorothy Stevens Center in West Kennebunk, c/o Town of Kennebunk, 1 Summer St., Kennebunk, Maine 04043.