Accomplished Fort Worth attorney was a problem solver, unifier and namesake of TCU’s alumni center.
by Rick Waters '95
Dee J. Kelly
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Topics: Frogs We Will Miss
by Rick Waters '95
Former TCU trustee and attorney Dee J. Kelly was a trusted advisor to some of the most prominent citizens in Texas and a powerful behind-the-scenes force in the growth of the state, Fort Worth and the university.
Kelly died in October. He was 86.
With a passion for law and politics, Kelly arose from an early career in civil service to represent oil interests of the Moncrief family. He eventually established his own practice, which became Kelly Hart & Hallman, the largest law firm in Tarrant County.
“Although Dee never walked on water, or claimed to, or tried to as far as I know, he is unforgettable.”William E. Tucker '56.
Besides the Moncriefs, his client base included the Bass family of Fort Worth, John Justin and the parent company of American Airlines. A 1950 TCU graduate, Kelly was a university trustee for 32 years.
“Although Dee never walked on water, or claimed to, or tried to as far as I know, he is unforgettable,” said former chancellor William E. Tucker ’56 at Kelly’s funeral.
“No doubt about it, Dee Kelly worked a boardroom as well as a backroom and used his connections to favor Fort Worth, the Metroplex and the state of Texas,” said Tucker. “He welcomed behind-the-scenes opportunities to advise and support those who captured headlines.”
Kelly’s relationships in politics spanned the spectrum, from Lyndon B. Johnson and John Connally to George H.W. Bush and Rick Perry. He was a guest at the White House and Texas Governor’s Mansion.
Kelly got a taste of politics early. After graduation, he worked for his mentor and fellow Bonham native U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn, while attending law school at George Washington University. He got to know prominent members of the Texas delegation, such as Lloyd Bentsen, Jim Wright, John Tower, John Cornyn and Kay Granger.
After a stint in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War, Kelly returned to Washington, until Rayburn urged him to return to Texas and use his instincts and influence to help their home state. Kelly served 18 months as legal examiner for the Texas Railroad Commission and spent a year in private practice before becoming general counsel for Moncrief Oil Interests.
Later, Kelly was general counsel for the First Worth Corporation, which became Justin Industries. Then, he worked for Perry and Sid Bass in the same capacity with Bass Brothers Enterprises Inc.
“Dee got things done,” Sid Bass said during his eulogy, calling Kelly “the most tenacious person you’ll ever know.”
“If a problem looked hopeless, Dee was a master,” said Bass. “He would pry with leverage. He would cajole with honey, banter and badger. When ingenuity didn’t work, tenacity did.”
Kelly served on the boards of AMR Corp., Sabre, Inc. and Justin Industries. He was chairman of the board of North Texas Bancshares and served on the board of the Jane and John Justin Foundation, Van Cliburn Foundation, Sam Rayburn Foundation and University of Texas Law School Foundation. At TCU, Kelly was a member of the Board of Trustees’ executive committee.
In 1996, 32 major donors helped fund a $6 million center to host TCU guests and alumni reunions. The university named the center in Kelly’s honor. At the dedication, Tucker said: “What better way to honor a distinguished alumnus who has stood behind and beside his alma mater as Dee has?”
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