If this lovely face looks familiar, you’ve probably visited the Stock Pot on Church St. in Montclair. Bess Kelly has worked there as a hostess and cashier, six days a week, for the past 30 years. Born on December 19th, 1917, she turned 95 on Wednesday, and celebrated her birthday at work with her son, Robert Kelly, who co-owns the popular lunch spot.
Happy Birthday! How was it?
I got lots of presents from my customers. There were so many plants and flowers in here that it looked like a funeral parlor! They also brought me Chantilly powder and candy. My daughter, who lives in Virginia, sent me a dozen roses, and my son gave me a necklace.
Do you have a lot of regulars?
Oh, yes. And they’re all nice people who come here. That’s why I enjoy working. And I do a good job because I enjoy people.
Everyplace I go, someone comes up to me and says, “I know you from the Stock Pot.” It happens all the time when I’m walking down the street.
How do you get to work everyday?
I drive everyday from West Orange to the Stock Pot, and I just got my license renewed six months ago. I’m going to drive until I’m 99, and after that I’ll get my license renewed again!
I’m a good driver. My reflexes are very good. The other day when I opened the kitchen cabinet, two dishes fell out. I caught them both.
Have you ever considered retiring?
Not really. I come in to work with aches and pains. Then I talk with people and forget about my aches and pains. My doctor told me: “Don’t ever let your son fire you!” It’s what keeps my mind sharp…talking, meeting people, and counting out change.
My friends say, “What do you want to work for? Why not stay at home?” But I’m not going to retire unless I have to. I can’t sit around and do nothing. I like to be on the go. My advice is to keep busy, keep your mind working, and be friendly.
What has kept you so healthy all these years?
I attribute my long life to Stock Pot soup. I eat it most days. Carrot and Mulligatawny are my two favorites. Everyone likes those.
Yes, soup is good food! Anything else?
I’ve always been active. I went ballroom dancing all the time for about 15 years with my friend until he died in 2000. We used to go dancing almost every night, and then I’d go to work at the Stock Pot in the morning! I’ve even convinced some of my customers to start ballroom dancing, and they love it.
I went through open-heart surgery in 1994, and had no problems because I was in such good shape. The doctor wanted a picture of me on the dance floor to show his patients, because I was such a good example of exercising and staying healthy.
How do you spend your free time?
I love music, especially ballroom dance music. My favorite singers are Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Patsy Cline. I also love the Jersey Boys. I saw them twice in New York.
Where do you like to vacation?
I love Atlantic City. I normally go every year. I was supposed to go for my birthday, but I fell. My arm is still sore but it’s healing. I’ll go after the holidays. I like to play the slots.
I’ve noticed that you’re always so beautifully put together: hair, make-up, clothing, and accessories…
Yes, I always dress up for work. I like to look nice. I get most of my clothes at Macy’s. Most of my jewelry I get as gifts.
Next, we spoke with Mrs. Kelly’s son, Robert Kelly, co-owner of the Stock Pot with his partner, Robert Penta.
What’s it like working with your mother for 30 years?
We’ve become even closer. We’ve learned to tolerate each other’s quirks. It works surprisingly well.
How do customers react to her?
We have lots of families with children come in here, especially on the weekends. The children love to see her. They call her “Grandma,” and help her make change. Lots of same sex couples with kids come here. She has always been very open-minded and accepting of that.
Guys and girls bring in their girlfriends and boyfriends for her approval. She’s very truthful. Sometimes she’ll tell them later, “I think you can do better.”
What else would you like Baristanet readers to know about your mom?
She’s an inspiration. With all the problems we have in the world today, she represents stability. After 9-11, our business noticeably increased. She had a lot to do with that. People were looking to feel safe, and she gave that to them.
I’m proud of her because of the example she sets for others of fair-mindedness, decency and hope. If it’s raining, she’ll say, “The sky’s getting brighter.”