Obituary: Kelley O’Connell |

Obituary: Kelley O’Connell

Kelley O'Connell
Provided Photo
Kelley O’Connell

October 23, 1966 – June 11, 2021

Kelley Elizabeth O’Connell—former lobbyist, decorated athlete, rowing coach, and industry-defining entrepreneur—passed away in Washington D.C. on Friday, June 11, after a four-year battle with ovarian cancer. Kelley was born in Minneapolis, MN, and lived in Wayzata until age 14, when her family moved to Glenwood Springs, CO. A 1985 graduate of Glenwood Springs High School, Kelley attended Regis University and concluded her studies at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. She then moved to Washington, DC, to work on Capitol Hill for Congressman Scott McInnis. Her career in politics continued until 2015, culminating with her work as a lobbyist for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

After her departure from the MPAA, and with the support and encouragement of friends, Kelley was inspired to start her own business. Pink Fox, launched in Kelley’s home in 2016, pioneered an innovative business model many others would attempt to emulate. Under Kelley’s leadership, Pink Fox has grown into the thriving DC-headquartered lifestyle and apparel brand it is today.

Kelley’s potential as a rower was discovered at a Capitol Hill gym in 1999, when after an indoor cycling class, she was invited to try the novice rowing program at Capital Rowing Club. From her first day on the water, her passion for the sport only increased. She trained diligently to become a skilled rower—a fiercely competitive athlete and invaluable teammate who moved every boat. As a member of Capital’s competitive women’s team, Kelley gained recognition as a friendly face—and frequent medal winner—at regional, national, and international regattas. She also became a powerful advocate of Capital’s community-centered mission—and was dedicated to making the sport more accessible to the greater Washington, DC community by expanding Capital’s programs and resources. Kelley was elected Capital Rowing Club’s President, served as board member for several terms, and was an integral part of planning and hosting club events, including regattas, learn-to-row days, celebrations, gatherings, and team-building activities.

Eager to share her love of rowing with younger athletes, Kelley joined the coaching team at Georgetown Visitation Rowing in 2005. Over her years as a coach and mentor, she inspired and encouraged hundreds of girls to develop discipline, teamwork, and athletic excellence. Coach Kelley was beloved for a coaching style that demanded hard work—but always made it fun.

Fondly known as KEO by those who loved her most, Kelley’s commitment to friends and family was unmatched. An effortless hostess, she was often the center of social gatherings. She was passionate about family time and traditions, and her commitment to documenting important moments with the people she loved made her a natural historian. Kelley’s personality was infectious. She put those around her at ease in any situation with a quick smile or the right words. And everything she touched sparkled. Often with glitter. She was—truly—a unicorn.

Kelley was preceded in death by her grandparents and her father, Joe O’Connell. She is survived by her mother, Paula O’Connell; sister, Katie (O’Connell) Simpson; brother-in-law Michael Simpson; nephew, Joey Simpson; and nieces, Libby and Gebby Simpson. She is also survived by a large community of friends she considered family from her many years in Washington D.C.

A celebration of life is taking place on Tuesday, June 15, 7:00 p.m. at the Anacostia Community Boathouse – 1900 M Street SE, Washington D.C. 20003.

In lieu of flowers, the O’Connell family requests donations in Kelley’s name to Capital Rowing Club.

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