Brant Earley Kelly - A Destin Legend, Captain, Dad, Husband and Friend to All Who Knew Him

Tuesday, August 17, 2021
Posted by Mary Phelps



"If you are lucky, a unique and special soul enters your life, changing your time on this earth forever."

We were lucky, Wayne and I to know him through the years. For me, it began sometime back in 1998 (I think) when traveling through Holland with Jodie and Laurie Kelly, Brant's daughter and wife. Jodie found a feisty young 4-year-old named Manhatten. There was a phone call to the states, and I guess the answer was yes. It was the horse that would launch her career as one of America's top Dressage riders and trainers, based our of her beloved Destin, Florida.

When Wayne and I could finally take a few days in 2017 to have a "honeymoon" we chose Destin as the destination, at the invitation of the Kellys. Brant invited us on a fishing trip that day, but Navy Captain husband gets seasick. So instead, we opted for a trip across the bay to a restaurant, when I caught this photo, Captain Kelly. We partied with a crew, the way the Kelly's always do, with Brant at the helm.

Even as he made his multiple trips to Shands near our farm in Gainesville he never lost his fight to live. Then one day, celebrating our first COVID Shot and Bonefish Grill, Laurie saw my Facebook Post and asked if we could deliver some "Bang Bag Shrimp" to the hospital. I can't believe they let me in. There was Brant resting. But he woke up with a sparkle in his eye and joy in his smile. That was the last time I saw him, but his spirit lives on forever. 

Brant and Jodie Kelly with Manhatten ©Mary Phelps
Brant and Jodie Kelly with Manhatten ©Mary Phelps

Here we share Laurie's beautiful tribute to Brant. Note, the donations in his memory, at the bottom of the page. 
Mary Phelps

Brant Kelly - September 12, 1953 ~ August 12, 2021

If you are lucky, a unique and special soul enters your life, changing your time on this earth forever.

In the case of our family, it came in the form of Brant Kelly, a man with piercing blue eyes, a “relentless” spirit and a mind that never failed to “find a way”. Brant was a husband, a father, a son, a brother, an uncle, a good friend, a mentor to many, and mostly, a fisherman. He never failed to inspire you, challenge you, and empower you with his strength and love. He motivated you to work harder, work smarter and go further, always with an unmatched fortitude.

A Destin Pioneer

Brant was born in Fort Walton Beach, the son of Bernarr and Virginia Kelly and the grandson of Destin pioneers Mattie and Coleman Kelly. He was raised, and lived his entire life, in Destin. He loved to tell stories of growing up on the docks in Destin, working with his grandfather, and fishing.... he had LOTS of fishing stories.

He loved Destin and immersed himself in our community in so many ways; serving on the Destin City Council, the Community Center Board of Directors, many years on the Destin Fishing Rodeo Board of Directors, as President of the Destin Charter Boat Association, as President of the Destin Fisherman’s Co-Op (which he is most proud of to this day), and on numerous committees and volunteer organizations.

Brant The Dad - To and Extended Family

Brant is the father of one daughter, Jodie, who is truly his biggest blessing. Brant actively supported her on many, many levels, and helped build her equestrian career right alongside her. He was happiest and most proud while sharing with others about Jodie! Through the years, our house was a second home to so many other “kids” that he started numbering them! Everyone has jokingly “fought” over their numbers for over two decades now. They knew they always had a place at our dinner table with Brant cooking, and they all came “home” often. He loved all “his kids” unconditionally and they certainly loved him back, especially over the last few years.

The Destin Captain

When Brant wasn’t fishing, he was building or fixing something, or helping someone else build or fix something. There was nothing he couldn’t do and absolutely nothing he wouldn’t try. He built our house, he built our barn, he built our boats. He built and ran the Lady K for over 20 years, and then built a bigger boat, the Relentless. He used to laugh and say, “I think I’ll take the day off and go fishing!”

Brant fought hard after his lung transplant. His strength and fearlessness were unabated, and his unrelenting cheerfulness, determination, and optimism lifted so many around him. We vowed to each other to never give up, but Brant knew when it was time to “wind ‘em up” and move to another spot ... his body was defeated, but never his spirit. He was truly blessed the last 4 months at home, constantly surrounded by family, friends, and his fishing buddies, on his “farewell tour” as we grew to call it. Brant died August 12, 2021, peacefully and at home, with us.

Brant is loved and will forever be missed by me, Laurie, his wife of 41 years; his daughter, Jodie, and her husband Josh; as well as his granddaughter, Hannah. He was enormously proud of them. Brant is also survived by his father, Bernarr; his sisters and many Kelly family cousins, nieces and nephews. He loved his family and was not ready to leave us, but, he had no fear. In a recent conversation, he said he had more boats to build as he pointed toward the sky.

When Men Were Made of Steel and Ships Were Made of Wood

Our family is forever indebted to our community, who have been beyond supportive through a very long and tough journey. There are just no words to express our love and gratitude to our fishing family, who have never spared us the love and support we needed, and never failed to express their love and respect TO Brant. He is a lucky man to have had them.

This text from a young Captain Justin Destin, to a “seasoned” Captain Brant Kelly, summed it ALL up for me: (after bringing his newborn son to show Brant) “I hope it was okay to bring the baby over, but I wasn’t going to miss comin’ over and now I can tell him he got to meet one of the last of the men I know that were made of steel, that came from an era where the ships were made of wood. I don’t think a small fraction even know, and the rest couldn’t fathom, what all you’ve done for Destin and what you have been a part of here. THANK YOU for everything.” No doubt, they’ve got the next watch for him.

A Birthday Celebration

Services for Brant will be held on Sunday, September 12, 2021, on his Birthday, at 4:00 PM, on the deck of Brotulas, overlooking the Destin Harbor. Immediately following, we will be traveling a short distance into the Gulf to deploy the memorial reef containing Brant’s ashes. Please bring your boat and join us if you wish. When we return, about 7:00, join us back on the deck of Brotulas for a bite to eat. There “may” be a “Miller Lite in a bottle” involved. Brant’s family and friends will be honored to have you for any or all parts of our Celebration of his extraordinary life.

In His Memory - the Captain’s Scholarship

We are pleased to have the Captain’s Scholarship at Destin High School be created in Brant’s name… In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Captain Brant Kelly Captain’s Scholarship Fund. DHS is a 501-C3, making donations tax-deductible. Checks made to: Destin High School with a notation on it: For Capt. Brant Kelly Scholarship Fund, mailed to: Destin High School, 4325 Commons Drive, Destin, FL 3254