When Amanda Marsh and her husband first started attending Portland Timbers matches, they had a newborn son in tow. Because of the baby, it was not always easy to enjoy the games.
Kevin Jolly sat near the Marsh family in Section 208 in the north end of the Providence Park stadium—a section that is home to the Timbers’ raucous supporters group known as the Timbers Army. As the father of three girls, Jolly could relate to the Marshs’ predicament.
Marsh said Jolly would often offer to hold the Marshs’ baby for an entire game—giving the new parents a break, and building bonds with their kids that would last for a decade.
“[My children] loved him. They still love him,” said Marsh. “It’s probably the worst thing ever to tell your children that someone they loved has died.”
On the morning of February 27, 2021, Jolly, 50, passed out at his home and was rushed to a hospital in Salem after complaining of chest pain. Several days later, he died—leaving behind his wife, Alice, and their three daughters.
Jolly’s death came as a sudden, piercing shock to his community. Doctors think that he suffered from Brugada syndrome, a condition that can cause irregular heartbeats and sudden cardiac arrest.
In the days that followed, people around Portland, particularly his Timbers Army family, grieved—recalling Jolly as quiet and thoughtful, funny and wise, always attuned to their needs.
Community was at the core of Jolly’s experience with and love for the Timbers. Over the last year of his life, without match days at Providence Park to keep them together, Jolly endeavored to keep his friends from Section 208 close—whether that was through playing Fortnite with Marsh’s kids, attending Zoom bingo nights, or helping fellow Timbers Army member Heidi Koenig-White with woodworking projects.
Jolly loathed longtime FC Dallas forward Blas Pérez. He adored former Timbers left back Jorge Villafaña. He loved soccer, having played the game growing up in Oregon. But he always was intensely aware of making sure that the people around him were comfortable and happy—especially kids.
“There’s always a fine line between talking to kids like they're adults and talking to kids like they’re babies, and he always seemed to know the right ways to talk to kids at any given age,” said Elizabeth Jolly, Jolly’s eldest daughter.
Sometimes that commitment to the people around him took on other forms. After Jolly's death, a woman who had been assaulted at a Timbers game contacted Alice to tell her that Kevin reached out to her in the aftermath of her assault and invited her to sit with them in Section 208 going forward.
“She said that she had never felt more comfortable,” Alice Jolly said. “Never in a creepy way, but as a dad, having three grown daughters, Kevin has this masculine calmness to him. He could really just meet people exactly where they needed to be met and care for that person.”
Jolly was a veteran and a versatile tradesman by profession, and the Timbers were a creative outlet as well. He would take old belts from Goodwill and the Salvation Army and turn them into Timbers-branded wristbands. He’d design and print Timbers-themed t-shirts. He’d made onesies for newborns of Timbers Army members.
His merchandise was so good that people began walking up to him in the stadium and giving them their own belts to be turned into wristbands. They’d ask about his t-shirts too. Sometimes, people didn’t quite know what they were getting into.
“He literally took the shirt off of his back and gave it to this person,” said fellow Section 208 denizen Ryan Kimberly, recalling one of Jolly's interactions with a fan. “And they said, ‘I don't have any money,’ and he said, ‘Don't worry about it.’"
"You want to be like that," Kimberly continued. "You want to be around people like that. And you want to foster that kind of community.”
Jolly’s path to becoming a Timbers season ticket holder reflected the power of that community.
In 2009, just after the Timbers had been awarded a Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion team, a Dallas resident named Hal Riley visited Portland and, smitten with the stadium and the team’s history, decided to purchase Timbers season tickets. But, while he attended the club’s first ever home game as a MLS team and supported them from afar, he rarely had the opportunity to use the tickets.
So Riley started giving them away over Twitter—at first game-by-game, awarding them to fans who won various challenges he came up with, which Jolly, a Twitter devotee, excelled at.
By 2013, Riley decided it was time to hand over the tickets to someone who would use them every week. For Riley, the Jollys were the obvious choice. Riley didn’t even charge them for the tickets for the first season. His only request was that the Jollys pay the love forward.
Riley and the Jollys stayed in touch. Jolly would send Riley pictures of the wristbands and other Timbers merchandise he was making. Once, when Riley complemented one of the wristband designs, Jolly replied that he was sending him an entire box.
“I bought these tickets in love—in love with the game, in love with the city, I was in love with a gal at the time,” Riley said. “I bought these tickets because they were always just a representation of something else.”
Beneath all of the swaggering tifos and obscenities directed at referees and fearsome chanting, love remains the foundation upon which the Timbers Army has grown over the last twenty years into North America’s most recognizable supporters’ section.
Riley regrets never being able to meet Jolly in person before he died.
“We never got to shake hands,” Riley said, “and I never got to give him a big old hug and say, ‘Dude, thanks for being fucking awesome and taking care of so many other people.’”
“I heard somebody refer to him as the James Dean of 208,” Alice Jolly said. “And I just sort of cracked up — always with his coiffed hair, a very cool man with his sunglasses on. That’s how I’ll remember him.”
After Jolly went into the hospital in February, it became clear how widely and how deeply his quiet, reassuring presence and love of life resonated with people.
Marsh initially set up a GoFundMe to help pay for Jolly’s medical expenses with a goal of raising $15,000, but quickly had to raise it as contributions poured in from Timbers Army members and people across the American soccer world, including the Timbers’ owner Merritt Paulson. The fund has currently raised more than $50,000.
Shortly after Jolly died, Paulson contacted Koenig-White on Twitter and told her that the club would like to honor Jolly in whatever way the family would like. For now, the club is covering the cost of the Jolly family’s season tickets this year.
Jolly’s Timbers Army family in Section 208 is also discussing how they will honor him. The Timbers Army has a small number of plaques at the top of one of its sections honoring supporters who have died, and Jolly’s friends have also talked about putting up a plaque on the front of their section, or on a seat somewhere in the first three rows where Jolly usually stood.
“Having something there that we can touch… will make a lot of difference to us,” Koenig-White said.
Whenever people are allowed to gather again without restrictions—and when the Timbers have their first game back in front of an at-capacity, shoulder-to-shoulder crowd at Providence Park—Jolly’s absence will likely be felt anew.
“I’m going to cry like a baby,” Koenig-White said. “Absolutely. I’m going to look back and Kevin is not going to be sitting behind [me]. On the first game back in 2019, I cried. It’s my safe place. My family. My home.”