At ninety-one years young, Lillian Kelly has lived through a World War and watched as the first man walked on the moon — and these aren’t even her proudest accomplishments. A surprise to many, this 5-foot tall grandmother is also a lifetime member of a women’s biker club.
Recently discharged as a patient at Pleasant Manor Health and Rehabilitation Center in Waxahachie where she received rehabilitation therapy for a broken hip, Kelly once lived a far different life than the one in Ellis County. It was a life lived as a member of the Motor Maids, a women’s motorcycle club with a goal of promoting safe riding habits, meeting new people and traveling North America. Kelly spent much of her youth and adult life riding with 1,200 women as they traveled through the country on two wheels.
A passion that has consumed Kelly for more than 60 years, the former biker never thought her new residence at the Waxahachie rehabilitation center would introduce her to someone who shared the same hobby. While rehabbing her hip, Kelly became acquainted with certified occupational therapist Karl Easley, who soon discovered that the two shared something very special.
“In my profession, I try to find what motivates my patients,” said Easley. “I think she had mentioned something about motorcycles and then I told her that I had one sitting outside. It was tough for her at first- she couldn’t walk so I would use my motorcycle as bait. I used it to get her to stand up and walk because we had to get up and go look at it. The second she saw it she flipped out. She sent home for her pictures and said ‘You don’t understand who I am.’”
Within 24 hours, Kelly had coated an entire table in photos dating back to the 1940s, memorabilia including a Motorcycle Maiden badge and a story to match every last item. Unbeknownst to her therapists, Kelly even disclosed that she’s been the recipient of more than 200 trophies, which include —
but are not limited to — awards for best dressed, riding the farthest distance and best-looking motorcycle.
“I had a custom built 1959 Harley Davidson,” she recalled. “I’m only 5 feet, so on a real big motorcycle I’d have to get up on my tiptoes and that wasn’t safe, so they just had to make one for me. It was pink and purple, iridescent, and turned a lot of pretty blues all over with the sun, and my girlfriend was always making me pink clothes to match.”
Easley listened in awe as the stories continued, and knew right away that he needed to get his patient’s story out before she left the rehabilitation center. After all, the ninety-one year old was growing stronger by the day.
“Who has documentation like this,” he marveled. “The only place you see stuff like this is on Discovery Channel. Motorcycles are one of the hottest things going on right now and it’s getting more mainstream like it was back then. Female mixed with all of that is just a rare thing, and this is in the '30s and '40s — even just having a woman in pants back then was unheard of!”
A product of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, Kelly was raised alongside her brothers in a house built by their dad. Though low on money, the siblings didn’t let being “dirt poor” get in the way of riding bikes. What began as a childhood hobby cruising through the neighborhood on scooters soon turned into a passion that was evident ran through Kelly's blood. But like any true professional, this accomplished biker didn’t just wake up talented- she had to start at the bottom.
“When I was a kid we lived in this house that my dad built,” Kelly said. “We didn’t have enough money because of the time, and we had to put cardboard in our shoes when they ran out, and in the winter we had to cut up wood to put it in the stove in the house to keep warm.
"So my brothers and I would just ride around the neighborhood on our scooters, so I’ve been rolling around on a bike for a while. It was a good life, but we were poor.”
With this newfound interest, Kelly dedicated much of her time to cruising around on scooters and bikes alike. As her interest transitioned to motorcycles, she soon met someone who enjoyed the sport just as much as she.
“I met my husband through motorcycles,” she said. “We got married, and then had a lot of motorcycles instead of babies!” Though the pair eventually did go on to have children, it didn’t stop them from pursuing the sport that brought them together in the first place.
“My husband had every motorcycle in the world, oh you wouldn’t believe it,” Kelly said. “When we got married, we had a bike and he loved to buy all the right clothes and jackets to ride, sometimes we’d even have the motorcycles in the front room because he’d be in there cleaning up, and on Saturday mornings we’d have a bunch of guys who’d get together and chat and get coffee.”
Once an owner of more than ten motorcycles, Kelly has ridden bikes for more than half of her life. During her decades-long motorcycle career, she’s also made multiple cross-country trips including Illinois to California and Pikes Peak in Colorado. Though she attributes many of these trips with the 'Maids' to her trustee Harley Davidson, Kelly was once a proud owner of bikes such as the 1974 “Indian” that today could cost upwards of $100,000.
Though since retiring her bike, getting to relive her glory days with Easley proved the best medicine for this motorcycle maven. Now fully recovered, Kelly will soon be heading to her new Waxahachie residence, but not before Easley followed through with his end of the deal. In order to fulfill a much-anticipated promise, the rehabilitation therapist had one last thing to do before he could let his patient go home.
“It was just so easy to get on that,” said Kelly after sitting on the back of Easley’s Yamaha Roadliner. “It felt so natural, but he wouldn’t give me the key to turn it on. I would drive it but he wouldn’t let me.”
Though convincing Easley to hand over the keys to his motorcycle is still in the works, Kelly proves that one thing will always be certain.
“If you like a motorcycle, you just don’t lose that.”