Milford High community mourns loss of senior

Courtesy photo Kolby Kelley and his mother, Robin Dewey.

MILFORD – When people talk about Kolby Kelley, they always mention his smile – and students and teachers at Milford High School saw a lot of his smiles.

Kolby was 18 and a senior at Milford High School when he died March 27. His mother, Robin Dewey, said he suffered a massive pulmonary embolism.

Principal Brad Craven said last week that Kolby was a

“super-positive presence in the school,” and that his unexpected death was devastating news for the teachers and students.

“He had a lot of learning issues, yet he was one of the warmest souls I’ve ever had the privilege” of knowing, Craven said.

The day after he died, the school had counselors available for students who needed to talk. His funeral service at the Household of Faith Church in Amherst was filled with teachers and students.

Kolby was born with Down syndrome, a genetic disorder associated with mild to moderate intellectual disability. Although he was nonverbal, he integrated well into high school, Craven said.

His base was the life skills room, where Kelly Noel was his teacher and life skills case manager.

Kolby “was very funny, happy,” she said last week. “He loved to be with people, loved to make people laugh and could be very silly.

“We’d be coming back from the gym, and realized that he was copying us. … He was a great kid. He loved his family. … He was just so loving. Once you got to know him, and know what he was trying to say,” you realized he “was a lovely human being.”

Basketball was Kolby’s favorite sport, and the school gym was a favorite place. He loved to do the morning warmup to music, running around happily to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” or Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” He also like to help with tasks around school, such as unloading the dishwasher and delivering mail.

Crystal Gagnon, who works with Noel in the life studies room, said Kolby gained a lot of maturity over the last four years.

“He was a teenager,” she said, and he could be “silly, devilish and would test his one-on-one” paraprofessional. When he was younger, he could be difficult to handle, but as he got older, he could go shopping and on field trips with no problem, she said.

Dewey said there were more than 500 people at the funeral for her son, including three school bus drivers and four employees from the bank where she took him regularly and they shared stories.

“Everybody feels they are a better person because of him,” Dewey said. “He was so lovable.”

Dewey, who owns the Robin’s Egg antique shop on Nashua Street, remembers one day when a young girl came in. Kolby was there and scared her, and she hid behind her mother..

The next day, the girl’s father brought her back to the shop with a note of apology.

“I gave her a big hug and cried,” Dewey said.

Dewey was in her 40s when she became pregnant with Kolby, and she decided to keep the baby after learning he would be disabled.

“I chose to bring him into the world,” she said. Now, she is lost without him.

“In the past few years, I needed him,” she said. “He took care of me.”

Dewey said her son thrived at the three Milford schools. He was part of the state Best Buddies program, a nonprofit that pairs volunteers with people with disabilities.

Juliet Pearsall, a senior at Milford High, was his buddy. They’d been friends since fourth grade, and went to the prom together last year. Afterward, all he wanted to talk about was dancing, she said.

“He always had a mischievous grin, always had a sparkling eye, always happy to see someone,” she said. “He got me to dance, got me to sing in the car on the way home.”

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.

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