Perhaps as long as speakers have been able to draw crowds — sometimes motivating without realizing it — they challenge listeners to “grab life by the throat.”

In his youth, C. F. (Kelly) Kelley, didn’t hear many speakers other than at church and the schoolhouse, but during his depression-scarred youth, he could well have felt that life had him “by the throat.”

At times, it would take all that was within him to make it to the next day, or next month, or next year. He gave little thought to his “rocking chair years.” Now, rocking right along, he thinks poet Robert Browning got it right, the part about “growing old along with me, the best is yet to be.”

Please don’t jump to conclusions. This sprightly 88-year-old is rocking primarily for others.

In fact, when he’s rocking infants in intensive care at Fort Worth Harris Hospital, he is warmed by the thought that he’s privileged to rock newborns whose parents and/or grandparents often have to leave them hospitalized when they return to responsibilities at home, maybe in far-away west Texas, or even adjoining states.

He rocks on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9 a.m. until noon, driving 10 miles each way from his Richland Hills home. This has been his schedule for 18 years…

At home is his wife, Edith. They’re in their 70th year of marriage, and she’s used to sharing her husband with her country, community, church, and yes, even families of newborn babies whose names they often don’t know.

She looks after household chores, and C. F. takes care of the yard, including mowing. Edith, the “designated listener” whose hearing remains keen, sometimes shakes his knee during church services to make sure he “listens up.”

With impaired hearing, lately he’s been “listening down,” but otherwise enjoying great health. He took his first prescribed medication earlier this year and has never been hospitalized…

A father, grandfather and great-grandfather, C. F. learned early on that hard-work, dignity, and faith go hand-in-hand. Born into a rural family in 1919, he was milking cows as a pre-schooler and riding horseback by age five.

His dad, head of Wise County’s Cedar Point School, taught life lessons well and quickly. But, a stroke and emphysema took his life when C. F. was 12, and the lad immediately faced adult roles.

C. F. rode a horse to school in Paradise for first grade, and upon his dad’s death, became driver of the family car…

Looking back, he’s glad he learned how to work. A 1936 graduate of Paradise High School, C. F. knew that college would be a long shot. But, he had to try.

Tuition and fees were only $25 for the semester at North Texas State Teachers’ College in Denton, but that was $25 more than he had. He went to work for a dairyman, arising at 2 a.m. daily to milk the cows. Then came cooling, bottling and delivering to about 30 customers.

The dairyman provided room and board and let him drive the old delivery pick-up to classes. They started at 8 a.m…

He and Edith were married in 1938, two years before he finished North Texas, and soon both had jobs in Fort Worth. Then, military service beckoned and he joined the Army Air Corps.

Kelly, a First Lieutenant, was a B-26 bomber pilot in Europe. He was discharged after four years’ service in 1946. Survivor of one crash landing, he and others of the “Greatest Generation” were eager to resume life at home…

A merchandiser who became vice-president of a buying syndicate before retiring in 1992, C. F. has continued a life of service. He and Edith have taught Sunday School classes for more than 60 years; he’s served as a deacon for more than 40 years.

He’s been a member of the Fort Worth Optimist Club for nearly 50 years, and in 2002 completed a 10-year stint as mayor of Richland Hills.

In the years prior to retirement, he traveled all over the globe for the buying syndicate whose sales now are measured in the billions of dollars…

He’s convinced that it’s better to “wear out than rust out,” so his community and church service continue.

“I love the little babies, talking to them as I rock,” he said. “Recently there were twin babies who weighed just 15 ounces each. I rocked their little cradle and rubbed their backs.”

He prefers to say he performs “menial chores.” He’s grateful for little things — like free parking provided for volunteers — and can hardly wait for his next rocking shift. He’s a great example of a wonderful definition of “faith.” It reads: “Faith is going to the very edge of all the light that you can see, then taking one more step.”

Don Newbury is a speaker and author whose weekly column appears in 125 newspapers in six states. He welcomes comments and inquiries. Call him at (817) 447-3872, or send e-mail to newbury@speakerdoc.com His Web site is www.speakerdoc.com.