Frank King Kelly lived a long and full life, and died peacefully on June 11, 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, taking 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 President Harry Truman, assistant to a U.S. 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 loved to tell stories and he had many of them. He believed firmly that everyone deserves a seat at humanity’s table, and he worked for this goal throughout his life.
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.
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 during the president’s 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 Truman in the Oval Office, she told the president 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, he was the U.S. 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 here with their family. Frank worked closely at the Center with its founder and president, Robert Hutchins, for the next 17 years, initiating two major international convocations around Pope John XXIII’s papal encyclical, “Pacem in Terris.” I met Frank when I joined the staff of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions 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, titled 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. 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, died in 1995. She was a poet, and after her death, the Foundation established the Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Awards. Each year these awards are given in her honor “to encourage poets to explore and illuminate positive visions of peace and the human spirit.”
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 had many wonderful characteristics that stand out. He was unfailingly optimistic and believed that better days were ahead. He had a special sense of humor and couldn’t resist a good pun. He was a staunch advocate for 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 was committed to ending war, abolishing nuclear weapons, and building a better future for humanity. Indeed, he 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, and 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. 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.
The family will announce memorial service details soon.
This story has been amended for accuracy since its initial posting.