Hundreds of Fort Worth citizens, Texas notables and Texas Christian University officials came together at University Christian Church on Wednesday to honor the life of one of the city’s most prominent people, attorney Dee J. Kelly.
Kelly, 86, died Oct. 2 after collapsing at Shady Oaks Country Club.
“Dee got things done,” summed up his client and close friend Sid R. Bass in remarks during the service.
It was a powerful understatement.
A native of Bonham, Kelly graduated from TCU in 1950 and worked for his mentor U.S. House
Speaker Sam Rayburn while attending law school in Washington D.C. After serving in the air
Force during the Korean War, he briefly rejoined Rayburn in Washington, then returned to Fort Worth. He became a trusted confidant to the state’s most powerful political and business leaders, a premier dealmaker, and as Bass said Wednesday, a self-described “great trial attorney.”
He was the founding partner in Fort Worth’s largest law firm, Kelly Hart & Hallman, whose clientele includes the Bass and Moncrief families, John Justin, Anne Marion and American Airlines.
Among the attendees at the service was former Gov. Rick Perry, along with business, political and cultural leaders from around Texas and the nation. Overflow guests were directed to seating in chapels with broadcasts on big screens.
Several parking lots were designated on campus to augment church parking, and shuttles took guests to a reception at the Dee J. Kelly Alumni Center after the service. Limousines and other vehicles were double parked along Rogers Avenue during the service.
Grandson Ben Barnes II spoke first, for Kelly’s eight grandchildren at the midafternoon service.
“If you knew him at all, you would know his strong preference that everyone return to their office as soon as possible,” Barnes said, riffing his grandfather’s legendary work ethic. “Especially Kelly Hart employees.”
Despite the towering public figure, University Christian’s senior minister Rev. Larry Thomas remembered Kelly as “a quiet and unassuming presence in our services.”
Music included Guide Me,O Thou Great Jehovah , My Country ‘Tis of Thee , and the TCU Alma Mater. The University Christian Church Chancel Choir, the TCU Concert Chorale and the TCU String Faculty Quartet participated.
Dee J. Kelly Jr. said of his father, “He knew of only one way to do something, and that was forward.”
Sid Bass remembered Kelly as “the most tenacious person you’ll ever know.
“He could pry with leverage, cajole with honey, banter and badger,” Bass said.
Bass, a close friend as well as a client, praised Kelly’s unshakeable loyalty to family, friends, business contacts and institutions.
“Dee owned the word loyalty,” Bass said. “For him, the word was active, not passive, and it takes courage and energy.”
Dr. William E. Tucker, retired TCU Chancellor, spoke to the suddenness of Kelly’s departure.
“The notion of Dee J. Kelly being gone is unacceptable in Fort Worth, so thought I,” Tucker said.
“A mighty oak has fallen, and scattered a thousand seeds.”
Kelly’s impatience was such, Tucker said, that he would leave a TCU football game after the first quarter if they fell behind by 14 points.
“In his sunset years, he walked slower, but talked faster,” Tucker remembered.
Kelly was a man of “fullbodied uniqueness,” Tucker said. “People will now and then say ‘you remind me of an acquaintance’. Surely Dee never heard those words, and would have been insulted if he had.”
Despite the larger than life qualities, the speakers remembered Kelly as a man who cared deeply, respected all, and practiced his faith as well as the law.
“My dad loved his family, his country, state, city and TCU,” Kelly Jr. summed up in his remarks.
His voice broke as he addressed the employees of the law firm to which Kelly Sr. devoted his final 35 years.
“He loved you all, even when he was chewing you out and running you ragged,” Kelly Jr. said. “It’s all in your hands now. I’m proud to be there with you.”