Paqui Kelly knew her audience didn't want to hear her “coach's voice.”
Instead Kelly, wife of Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly, spoke Wednesday at the Mirro Center for Research and Innovation in Fort Wayne in an even, earnest tone. She got emotional as she detailed her two bouts with breast cancer and her work with the Kelly Cares Foundation, of which she is co-founder and board president.
Kelly was the keynote speaker at the Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana Tribute Dinner, recognizing the community support that has allowed the organization to celebrate its 75th anniversary this year. She has seen firsthand, since her foundation was created in 2008, how generous people from the area have been in battling cancer.
“There's something about Midwest people, they just really are very giving,” Kelly said. “I think God put us here for all the right reasons and it's allowed us to be successful in making a difference. ... One of the best things I've learned about being in a nonprofit is I'm gaining more from my giving than being on the recipient end.”
Kelly was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, when her husband was the coach at Grand Valley State. The cancer recurred in 2007, when the Kellys were at Cincinnati. Shortly thereafter, they started the Brian Kelly Family Foundation, later renamed the Kelly Cares Foundation. The foundation has distributed more than $5.1 million.
“Our Notre Dame people are everywhere,” Kelly said. “When we've been to other (states and countries), they've come out and asked us for help and reciprocated by giving us help.”
The Kelly Cares Foundation has grown significantly since Kelly was hired at Notre Dame in 2009. Paqui hasn't seen much change in her husband since he got one of the most high-profile jobs in the college football world.
“He's done a really good job of taking care of himself,” she said. “We're a little wiser the older we get. But he's also been (coaching) a very long time and Notre Dame is a place that you can be successful. You've got great students, great administration, great support and great fans. We're just really blessed to be here.”
The guests at the Mirro Center never did get to hear Kelly's “coach voice.” But when asked about Notre Dame's opener against Louisville on Monday – a sometimes sloppy 35-17 win that left many fans feeling uneasy – her answer sounded like coach-speak.
“They were all tired coming home (from Louisville),” Kelly said. “But the reality is, we were talking about it a little (Tuesday) night, getting that first game, that first 'W' is so important. Once they started rolling, you could see the physicality and their speed kind of bump up.
“I think they've got good things coming around the corner.”