She was everybody’s ‘Aunt Lois’ - Family, friends agree Kelly-Miller, who died age 102, had ‘a wonderful innings’
Wit, humour, and a generous spirit are the constant descriptives for the late Jamaican actress Lois Kelly-Miller. Taking her final breath at age 102 last Wednesday morning, she leaves behind her family, some friends, and a troupe of actresses, namely Fae Ellington, Ruth Ho Shing, Grace McGhie-Brown, and Leonie Forbes – a group of ladies who lunched with and laud Kelly-Miller as an elegant, endearing woman whose life proves that commitment and consistency do indeed pay off.
“She used to call herself the floating river of the family,” Dan Kelly, her nephew, told The Sunday Gleaner. “I’ve gotten a million and one calls and messages. What was instructive to me was that everybody, whether they’re related or not, called her Aunt Lois. She was everybody’s auntie. We all know her that way. She was everybody’s mom, aunt, friend, confidante – everything.”
“I would have met her in the early ‘70s. She was that kind of woman who was very endearing. She was an exceptional actress, and she had exquisite timing. Her wit and humour, it just rolled. It just came,” Ellington told The Sunday Gleaner.
McGhie seconded with a story affirming Kelly-Miller’s quick wit and appealing sense of humour. “I had the absolute good fortune to work with her in my very first commercial production, Tony Gamble’s Paradise Street in 1971. We were going through a time when Jamaica was having regular, daily power cuts. We went through a bad time in the ‘70s,” McGhie began.
“In the middle of the performance, sometimes the power would go. And she was on stage. Let me tell you, in the darkness, she would come up with some comical quips that would have the audience roaring. We were on stage just dropping down with laughter. She really was terrific. As far as I’m concerned, she’s one of Jamaica’s treasures, ” she continued.
‘Meet Joe Black’
If you weren’t around in the ‘70s, Kelly-Miller (formerly Kelly-Barrow) is still a familiar, cinematic local gem. She played the dying woman in the hospital scene of the 1998 film Meet Joe Black, with Hollywood heartthrob Brad Pitt taking on Jamaican patois.
“I remember when she did Meet Joe Black. She was in her 70s,” Ellington told The Sunday Gleaner. “They had a reception for her at the Terra Nova after she came back. She was saying, ‘Look here, I buss inna my 70s, so anything else can happen now’,” Ellington continued.
From that time on, Ellington developed a friendship with her that included McGhie-Brown, Ho Shing, and Forbes.
“Miss Lois is one the people in theatre, in entertainment in Jamaica, that I admired from the first day I saw her. She had a magnificent stage presence, and if Lois mek poppyshow of a sentence, it never goes back to the original. She was very good at that,” Forbes told The Sunday Gleaner.
Ladies who lunch
Forbes was long affiliated with Kelly-Miller, recalling the teacher-student relationship that laid the foundation for friendship decades later. “I absolutely adore Miss Lois and enjoyed all the pantomimes I was in that she was in. I was a youngster. And then we did some television work together, where I was doing a series for JBC at the time called Win Some Lose Some. She played my mother,” Forbes shared.
Ho Shing also holds on to precious memories of Kelly-Miller, particularly off the stage. “I remember they were doing something at BBC on Miss Lou. She and Miss Lou were very close friends. They wanted a voice clip from her. It was only I who could go for her, take her down to Creative Studios, get it done. I think she felt comfortable with me. She just bonded with me. She would go with me anywhere,” she said.
As the years went by, Ho Shing, Ellington, McGhie-Brown, and Forbes would regularly visit with Kelly-Miller. “We would go to see her once or twice a year. Definitely on her birthday or Christmastime. We’d sit with her, talk, and have tea. We go and spend the whole afternoon,” Ellington said.
“I just love her and I know she left in peace. Thank you, Lord, she got a good run,” Forbes chimed in. “We’ll miss her, but she did a wonderful innings! I’m really sorry that it comes at a time when we’re not going to be able to pay full tribute to her and give her a real catawampus send off!” McGhie-Brown added.