Barbara Ellen Kelly passed June 24 at her home in Hallandale Beach, Florida. Barbara, Barb, or Kelly, as she was popularly known, was born in New York City on May 28, 1936. Barbara lived in Brooklyn, Rockaway and Woodside Queens as a child and young adult.
The story of Barbara’s life is, in many ways, the story of lesbians of her era: coming into adulthood in the mid-fifties, forced to work and support themselves in a time when jobs for women in the workplace were extremely limited. She first worked for the New York Telephone Company as an operator in the late 1950's. In the mid 1960's, Barb moved to Eastern Long Island, attended nursing school and then worked at a hospital in South Hampton.
On a vacation to Florida, she fell in love with Fort Lauderdale and decided to move here. While working as an O.R. nurse, Barbara met her first life partner, Marylin Spindler, who was, as Kelly told her beloved nephew, Jerry Boyle, "a big shot in the I.C.U.” And as Jerry says, one thing led to another and they became a couple. They bought some acres and built a ranch house outside the town of Davie, Florida. In the 1970s, in her 30s, she was tall, slim and handsome: Barb was coming into her own. She was sharp! She loved fast motorcycles, new cars, and bedecked herself with gold jewelry as befit an up and coming New Yorker.
Forced to be self-reliant at an early age, Barb was street smart and always savvy and could see a deal or a bargain a mile off. She and Marilyn befriended the guy who owned the local liquor store in Davie. They offered to buy it from him. The made a deal for the business and the building and the lot and they named it "The Beer Barn." They took opposite shifts at the hospital and The Beer Barn. They worked every day around the clock until the business started to pay off.
As the story goes, within a year they had paid off the mortgage and were able to stop working as nurses. Soon they opened The Beer Barn Lounge, “a beer and a shot joint" with a great jukebox, and the first liquor bar in Davie. “Southern Nights" by Glenn Campbell was one of her favorite songs. In the shadow world of lesbian life at that time “bar owner” was an exalted status and Barb was there, with her brand new white caddy, then later the baby blue “2 seater” Mercedes and, of course, the motorcycle.
In 1990, Barb opened Pink Tails, a gay entertainment club in Fort Lauderdale. Barb, true to form, playing the “gay blade,” was ever-present in her pink tuxedo, keeping the LGBT clientele entertained and keeping an eye on business. One of her favorite sayings was, “I boogie in, then, I boogie out.” A sister lesbian bar owner recalls, “Kelly could charm anybody and we always got the best table at any restaurant we went to or any bar we went to! But boy we had fun no matter where we went!”
Barbara’s personality was one of a kind. Along with Barbara's big personality came an even bigger heart. She was kind, generous and loving. She loved women, gambling, smoking and Rolling Rock, roughly in that order. She was fondly known as "Mrs. T" because she wore so many gold necklaces and rings. She could also laugh at herself. One friend recalls that about 10 years ago when walking through airport security with her, they asked that she step aside so they could wand her. She laughed and said, "My friends call me ‘Mrs. T!’"
After Pink Tails closed due to a falling out with a co-owner, Barb and her partner retired to Ormond Beach - but Barbara could never sit still so she really never retired. Barbara managed property, bought and sold property and kept her finger in many things in the neighborhood. Barbara also was a loving caretaker for her aunt and uncle who she moved to be near her in their elder years. Returning to the Fort Lauderdale area after their death, Marilyn also passed, leaving Barb at the nadir of her life. The years of hard work, fun, loving and long lasting friendships had devolved to this, and with her eyesight failing, she was alone.
But, destiny had one more grand adventure for our indefatigable heroine. Through friends, Barb met Beverly Linn, and fell madly in love. Bev, as fate would have it, became her legal wife on January 6, 2015 at 5 a.m., when the Broward County Clerk of Court, Howard Forman, opened the courthouse at midnight so that hundreds of gay and lesbian couples could legally marry. Beverly (“Bev”) and Barb were the darlings of the Wilton Drive lesbian and gay piano bar scene, attending Mary Jane Cunningham’s sing-a-longs and hosting brunches at the local casinos. With Bev’s glamorous style and Barb’s wit and charm, whenever they appeared, lesbians (and Tony Dee, the venerable owner of Chardees Lounge) flocked around them.
She is remembered by her hundreds, if not thousands of customers at The Beer Barn in Davie, and Pink Tails in Fort Lauderdale. Barbara was a well known icon in the gay Fort Lauderdale community of the 70s, 80s, and 90s: melding a mix of the straight, lesbian and gay men customers, extremely unusual at that time in the South. Barb was known for her beautiful smile, her twinkling blue eyes and quick wit. She will be remembered as a loyal, loving and beloved wife and friend. She is survived by her beautiful and loving wife, Beverly Linn, her nephew, Jerry Boyle, and her many friends.