Capt. Brant Kelly was a husband, father, captain and friend to many in Destin

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

Hard worker and helpful are just a few of the words family and friends used to describe Capt. Brant Kelly, who died at age 67 on Aug. 12 in his home in Destin. 

“It was very peaceful,” said his wife, Laurie. 

Kelly had a double-lung transplant two years ago and “did amazing with it,” Laurie said. 

Then he started having trouble with his medications for rejections, she said. Laurie said they couldn’t seem to level out the medications without creating another problem. At one point, Brant went into congestive heart failure. 

Capt. Brant Kelly built two boats during his time on the docks in Destin.

“Things just continued to go amuck,” she said. 

“His case was super tricky. They just couldn’t put it together for him,” she said of UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville. 

Nevertheless, Laurie had high praise for the team at Shands.  

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“They were the best team. … They were fantastic and were diligent,” she said. 

Brant decided in April to come home and spend the rest of his days there. 

“When he got home, he was doing much better, but we knew it wouldn’t last. It wasn’t if, but when,” Laurie said. 

But the couple, their daughter Jodie and extended family, which included the Destin fishing fleet of captains and mates, made the best of it. 

Brant and Laurie Kelly

“If anyone could have had a better farewell tour, I don’t know who it could be,” Laurie said. “For four months those guys were in and out of here every single day, drinking coffee with him, bringing him lunch, telling him what happened at the docks. They literally didn’t stop coming here to see him.

“A lot of people don’t get that chance to spend extra time. He had a glorious four months of love and attention. He knew he was loved. That’s important,” Laurie added. 

“And most of that was pretty darn good,” Laurie said, noting he ate and drank whatever he wanted. 

Brant Kelly remembered

“I once heard Capt. Cliff Atwell say, ‘Brant was the hardest working man he had every met’ ” said Capt. Mike Eller. “I instantly knew it to be true and it always inspired me to work harder.

“It gave me a mark to try and achieve. Brant loved this community and loved the charter boat industry. His leadership in forming the Destin Fisherman’s Co-op was a game-changer for our fleet,” he added. 

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“He had a true independence and common-sense way of doing things,” Eller said. “I’ll miss his friendship the most of all. Brant was there for me when I was struggling. He stuck his hand out and pulled me up."

Capt. Brant Kelly was "always cheerful," his wife Laurie said.

His wife Laurie also described him as a “helper.” 

“He was always involved and loved to help people and make things better. He just loved to make things better,” she said. 

Capt. Steve Haeusler said, “I always admired him. He was a hard-working man. 

“He built two boats while still working. He’ll be missed.” 

“He was a good guy … one of the hard workers,” added Capt. Eric Thrasher. “He’s done it all, from building boats, reefs, barns."

"He was a great guy … a hard-ass fisherman. He didn’t mess around,” said Capt. Tony Davis, noting Brant built a lot of wrecks and reefs over the years. 

The Relentless was the boat Capt. Brant Kelly built and fished with for many years. The boat will stay in the family.

Fishing was something Kelly knew he was going to do even at an early age. 

“He always knew what he was going to be since the fifth grade,” said Eddie Thrasher, who went to grade school with Brant. “He was going to be a boat captain … that’s what he told everybody.

Laurie and Brant Kelly in Greece.

“Most of us didn’t know what we were going to do, but he did,” he added. 

Capt. Josh Calhoon, who worked the deck for Kelly for about six years, said, “He was one of the best captains I worked for. I learned a lot from him.” 

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One of the things Calhoon said he learned from Kelly was to not worry about killing everything but to have fun fishing. 

“He was all about having a good time,” Calhoon said. 

Capt. Tommy Browning, who worked alongside Kelly for years, said, “He was a hard fisherman. He was like all the rest of us; he worked hard to build a good business.” 

Capt. Brant Kelly of the Relentless and his daughter Jodie show off some huge amberjack.

Capt. Randy Hanshaw worked for Kelly for about 12 years as a captain and a mate. 

“He was a fantastic guy, hard worker. Knows everything … just boat smart. Common sense smart,” Hanshaw said. “Nothing I can say can express how I felt about him. He was like my brother. He was always there. He was an extraordinary man.”

Brant Kelly's community service 

Kelly served on the Destin Community Center board before Destin became a city and later served on the Destin City Council from 1996-1999. 

He was a founding father of the Destin Fishermen’s Co-op and a member of the Destin Charter Boat Association. 

He also served on the board of directors of the Destin Fishing Rodeo for several years as well as the Destin Chamber of Commerce board. 

He also built two boats, Lady K and Relentless, as well as houses and barns. 

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Capt. Ken Beaird, who was the mayor of Destin during Kelly’s stint on the council, said if you wanted something done, (Brant) just went out and did it. You didn’t have to count on someone else doing it for him. 

“He didn’t sit down. … He always had something to do,” Beaird said. 

During Brant's time on the council, Beaird said Brant was concerned about the development of Destin. 

“He was very strong about keeping development down,” Beaird said. 

Capt. Brant Kelly and his daughter Jodie.

Brant Kelly the family man 

“He was pretty perfect in almost every way,” Laurie said. “He was an amazing father, an amazing best friend and great husband.

"A pretty unique individual,” she said. 

When asked what she will remember most about her husband, Laurie said, “I can’t say just one thing. He was just everything to everybody.” 

Even during the past couple of years, “He was never not cheerful … and he was positive.” 

“For him being a guy in a small town, he’s had a huge impact on a lot of people,” she said. “I just felt like he was an extraordinary guy in so many ways. He went to high school … but somehow, he knew how to build a house, build a boat and build a barn. How to take engines apart and put them back together.

Laurie, Jodie and Brant Kelly with Jodie's horse.

“He built this house we’re living in and the boat and house is still here,” she said. 

“There was nothing he couldn’t do,” added his daughter Jodie. 

As for his boat the Relentless, Laurie says, “I’ll definitely keep it, it’s part of the family.” 

Brant Kelly with his daughter Jodie's horse.

Service for Brant Kelly 

A service is planned to start at 4 p.m. Sept. 12 (Brant’s birthday) at Brotula’s Seafood House and Steamer. 

His ashes are being mixed into a 700-pound concrete fishing reef that will have a granite plaque that will be taken out and dropped in the Gulf of Mexico after the service. 

After the dropping of the reef, there will be food and drinks back at Brotula’s at about 7 p.m.