Remembering Frank King Kelly

By |2014-04-08T18:18:04-07:00June 14, 2010|

Click here to view our Frank K. Kelly memorial page, which includes photos, reflections and more.

Frank King Kelly lived a long and full life.  He died peacefully just one day before his 96th birthday.  He was a fortunate man and all of us whose lives were touched by him were fortunate as well.

Frank was married to his great love, Barbara, for 54 years.  She was his rock, his partner and his strongest booster.  She also kept his feet on the ground, or at least tried.  Frank had two sons, Terry and Stephen.  He was very proud of them and of their wives.  He took joy in their accomplishments and those of his three grandsons.  He was delighted by the recent birth of his great grandson. 

Frank had a remarkable career.  He was a reporter for the Kansas City Star, a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, a soldier in World War II, a speech writer for Harry Truman, assistant to the Senate Majority Leader, vice president of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, and a founder and senior vice president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. 

To everything he did, Frank brought creativity and optimism.  He believed firmly that everyone deserves a seat at humanity’s table, and he worked for this goal throughout his life. 

Frank loved to tell stories and he had many of them.  As a young boy, he would be sent in to awaken his father who had recurring nightmares after returning from World War I.  His father’s strong and lasting torment from the hand-to-hand combat he had experienced was Frank’s initiation to the trauma of war.

As a teenager, Frank wrote science fiction stories.  He often finished 15,000 word stories at one go, with no revisions required.  The editors to whom he sent his stories thought they were publishing the work of an older man rather than that of a teenager.  In 1996, Frank would be inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame, an award for contributions to science fiction dating back more than 30 years.

At the Kansas City Star Frank met Ernest Hemingway, who told him that he would have to leave Missouri if he ever hoped to be a writer.  Frank did leave, and over the course of his lifetime wrote ten books, including one only a few years before his death. 

As a soldier and reporter in World War II, Frank interviewed many dying soldiers.  At the end of their young lives, he said, they all cried out for their mothers.  Frank was with the first group of American troops to liberate Paris.  He loved it that they were greeted with such warmth and excitement, but Frank had seen enough to have a deep loathing for war and its consequences.

Frank was asked to write speeches for Harry Truman in his 1948 campaign.  Most of his friends thought that Truman was a sure loser and that Frank would be crazy to take the job, but Barbara encouraged him and he did take it.  Throughout his life, Frank was fiercely loyal to Truman, a man he admired greatly.  When Frank introduced his mother to Harry Truman in the Oval Office, she told Truman how wonderful she thought it was that Frank and he had won that election.

Frank next took a position as assistant to the Senate Majority Leader and then as staff director of the Senate Majority Policy Committee.  I don’t think he enjoyed that experience of power politics, and he was happy to accept a series of new assignments.

In 1952, Frank served as Washington director of the Harriman for President Committee.  In 1952 and 1953, Frank was the US director of the Study of World News, conducted by the International Press Institute.  In 1953 and 1954, Frank directed a national campaign against book censorship.

In 1956, Frank became the vice president of the Fund for the Republic, a nonprofit organization funded by the Ford Foundation, which was established to “support activities directed toward the elimination of restrictions on freedom of thought, inquiry and expression in the United States….”  The fund was a staunch opponent of McCarthyism. 

When the Fund established the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara in 1959, Frank and Barbara moved their family to Santa Barbara.  Frank worked closely at the Center with its founder and president, Robert Hutchins, for the next 17 years.  At the Center, Frank initiated two major international convocations around Pope John XXIII’s papal encyclical, “Pacem in Terris.”

It was at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions that I met Frank when I joined the staff there in 1972.  Later, after Robert Hutchins had died and the Center for all practical purposes had ceased to exist, Frank wrote a seminal book about it, The Court of Reason.

Frank and I worked together in founding the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.  At first, he thought it was a farfetched idea that we could create a new organization that could make a difference in building a more peaceful world, but he believed we should try and we did.  We founded the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in 1982, along with three other Santa Barbarans.  We had no resources to start with, but a fervent belief that peace was an imperative of the Nuclear Age and that it would be necessary for citizens to lead their leaders.  That was 28 years ago, and throughout that time Frank and I conferred on almost a daily basis.

Frank’s wife, Barbara, was a poet and, after her death in 1995, the Foundation established the Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Awards in her honor.  Each year these awards are given “to encourage poets to explore and illuminate positive visions of peace and the human spirit.”  The awards are given in three categories: adult, teenage, and 12 and under.

Frank had many wonderful characteristics that stand out.  He was unfailingly optimistic and believed that better days were ahead.  He was a staunch advocate of women, and believed that their nurturing style of leadership was needed to build a better world.  He was deeply loyal to his friends and colleagues.  He had a special sense of humor and couldn’t resist a good pun.  He was committed to ending war, abolishing nuclear weapons and building a better future for humanity. 

In 2002, the Foundation established the Frank K. Kelly Lecture on Humanity’s Future.  These lectures are given annually by a distinguished individual “to explore the contours of humanity’s present circumstances and ways by which we can shape a more promising future for our planet and all its inhabitants.”  Frank himself gave the first lecture.  He entitled it, “Glorious Beings: What We Are and What We May Become.”  He believed that each of us is a glorious being.

Frank lived by one of the core values of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation: shameless idealism.  He was an idealist without regret, a visionary who saw that a better future was not only necessary but possible.   He worked daily throughout his life to achieve a more decent world.

I would sum up Frank’s life by saying that he was decent, kind and loving, and he never gave up his desire to create a better world.  His life brought dignity to being human.  He was a glorious being.

Frank was fond of quoting this line by William Blake, “…he who kisses joy as it flies lives in eternity’s sunrise.”  Frank had a special relationship with joy, and I believe he continues to live in “eternity’s sunrise.”