Mayor and his Mrs. collect the uncommon

Posted Monday, Apr. 15, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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That Colleyville Mayor David Kelly and his wife, Debbie, are collectors of a different feather is obvious on the walk up to their front door.

“I admit it’s a sickness,” Debbie said.

Dozens upon dozens of pieces inside their home are whimsical representations of her obsession. The sentries at the home’s entry, however, are the real deal iconic symbol of tacky decor — plastic flamingo yard ornaments. All of the faux birds satisfy an affinity that germinated when Debbie was young and blossomed shortly before she married.

“I lived in Florida during summers when I was little and fell in love with them,” she said. “My hand mirror was one of the first pieces. I got that before we were married in 1987, but I can’t remember where.”

From that first piece the flamingo collection expanded rapidly. It includes the functional — shot glasses, martini glasses and pitchers, high-balls, tumblers wine-bottle holders and corkscrews, salad tossers, cookie jars and candy bowls — and the utilitarian — toilet plunger and brush, umbrella stand, kitchen towels, night lights and photo frames. There are pure decoration pieces, of course, but also elements that transcend decor, like a hand-painted antique mirror in a front bath and a hand-painted mural that virtually covers the walls in another bath.

David Kelly doesn’t indulge his wife’s affliction. He inflames it, buying her things like a flamingo-flaunting Isabella Fiore handbag and coin purse. But he insists there are limits.

“We’ll pass on the really crappy,” he said. “It has to be a certain degree of tackiness.”

And somehow the flamingos never overwhelm. Debbie has seen out-of-control collections dominate some peoples’ homes and couldn’t tolerate that in her own.

“We try not to bunch them up so much that it makes your head swim,” she said. “They’re displayed in a rather continuous layout, one leading to the next.”

Debbie’s love for the long-legged birds is unlikely to wane.

“When anyone sees a flamingo who knows me, they can’t not think of me, and of poor David for putting up with it,” she said.

Debbie, in turn, tolerates her husband’s tastes, evidenced by the massive space she surrendered in her living room to the authentic Big Boy statue he picked up in a New Orleans antique store. It should be noted, however, that David relegated his previous infatuation (some 300 sets of salt-and-pepper shakers) to storage in deference to Debbie’s birds.

So Debbie didn’t bat an eye when David bought a 1957 John Dean pumper truck from a volunteer fire department in Texasville, Ala. Nor did she shudder over the 1974 Ford Gran Torino sedan that he’s turning into a classic police cruiser. After all, the town they both love had nothing like those vehicles to drive in parades.

“Several years ago I decided that since Colleyville didn’t keep any old police cars we needed one for parades and such,” David said. “I started a search with the help of some Colleyville police officers.”

Meanwhile, the mayor saw a photo of the firetruck and went after it “because I wanted something different. It was on eBay and didn’t sell.”

The Texasville VFD wanted to sell the pumper after it bought a 1985 fire engine from Spring, Texas. The old pumper was still in service when David paid $2,200 for it.

“It was in pretty good shape,” he said. “I put around $2,000 into it for electrical and brakes. The clutch just went out and that is costing $1,700.”

Once the pumper’s painted, decals will turn it into Engine No. 1 for Colleyville VFD. (Colleyville has a paid fire department, but “VFD looks cooler in parades,” David said.)

Finding a car tribute to the city’s original police cruiser — Unit 52 — proved harder. There were plenty of Starsky-and-Hutch-style two-door fastbacks, but decent four-door Torinos were elusive. Finally an officer found one in Mesquite that cost the mayor $2,000. It’s being kept with the firetruck at a Grapevine garage, where the mayor and a pair of mechanics — David Kirby and his daughter, Ginna Doyle — are converting it.

“We rebuilt the engine for another $4,000, boring it out to a 430-cubic-inch V-8,” David Kelly said. “You have to hold it back at the lower speeds, so you know it’s fast.”

The speedometer in the almost pristine instrument panel goes up to 130 miles per hour. Just saying.

On its way to becoming Unit 52, the Torino’s beige body will become black-and-white, its seats will be rebuilt and recovered, and a light bar with a bell-shaped PA speaker and an authentic (but non-functional) radio of the period will be installed.

“Our police department is 40 years old this year,” the mayor said. “Back then it was a two-channel radio.”

Only one thing bothers Debbie about the collections she and her husband have gathered. “What will be done with them when we pass on? Our son, Chad LaPrelle, thinks they’re fun. But he likes monkeys.”

Terry Evans, 817-390-7620 Twitter: @fwstevans

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