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Richard Connor: Dee Kelly was a man for the ages, a friend forever

🕐 4 min read

Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends. (William Butler Yeats)

A man, Dee J. Kelly, truly for the ages, has been eulogized, written about extensively in news stories, and remembered anecdotally among friends and family in a manner for the ages.

His unique personality was legendary. His influence in this city, our state and the nation was profound. He is being properly lionized.

The question arises, though, and is as puzzling as the man himself could be: How was someone so complex also so transparent?

His traits and quirks were so well known they have been recited over and over until it seems there is little new to add but a summary.

His longtime friend, Sid R. Bass, said it best and succinctly in his eulogy: “Dee got things done.”

How did he do it? The routine went something like this. One phone call to Dee asking for assistance. A couple of phone calls – often only one was needed – from Dee to his various sources. One return phone call back from Dee saying either the task was complete or giving instructions on how to finish it.

He followed a simple set of rules for success and the rules worked. He took his one-person law office to great heights and unimaginable prestige and power. It is now Fort Worth’s largest firm and has offices in Austin, Midland and New Orleans.

Here are the rules:

• Dream of big things even if you come from humble beginnings.

• Work hard. Arrive at the office earlier than every one else; stay later.

• Pursue and demand excellence.

• Treat every client as if that client were your only customer.

• Value talent. Never be afraid to hire people smarter than you are.

• Be proud but never demand center stage.

• Have a sense of humor, especially about yourself.

• Integrity.

• Loyalty.

The last item on the list virtually trumped all others. Once a person had Dee Kelly’s loyalty it was embedded at the heart of the relationship forever. It was unbending. And it was loyalty he admired above all else.

He died on Friday, October 2, suddenly and without lingering illness or crippling infirmity. Dee’s mind and his speech and his attention span had always been a whirling dervish of constant motion. It’s easy to believe he died as he would have wanted, quickly.

Since his passing, stories about him have abounded. He was perhaps as unique a man as anyone could ever meet. No politician in Texas ran for city, state or national office without seeking his advice and in most cases his approval.

The boy from tiny Bonham, Texas, dreamed big dreams and fulfilled his destiny. He worked for the legendary Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, also from Bonham.

Kelly gave a speech in school about his hero, Rayburn, and before he knew it had a job at the feet of the master. There he would learn how to get things done by working with people from both political parties and by playing by the rules, a golden code of conduct.

He learned the art of negotiation and while he was individually uncompromising on many subjects, he also learned to compromise to achieve goals.

Kelly attended Texas Christian University on a scholarship that required him to preach on Sunday, almost as if he were a circuit preacher of old.

He was paid $5 a sermon. Soon he realized that if he started early in the day he could hit two churches on a Sunday and earn $10. Sometimes he received tips.

Paradoxically, he was able to speak as fast as a machine gun but still be understood by his target audience as precisely as if he were shooting one bullet at a time.

Many of the stories about Kelly have centered on the humorous idiosyncrasies of a man who enjoyed the trust and confidence of presidents and many other political and business giants of our times.

We were close friends for the past 30 years. Someone asked me recently how a newspaperman could get so close to Kelly.

I said that maybe it was because I could make him laugh. And when he laughed his eyes would sparkle and his voice cackled. That always made me happy.

I truly loved Dee Kelly. He taught me more about friendship and loyalty than anyone could ever know. Unless, of course, they felt the same way. Many did.

Richard Connor is chairman of the parent company of Fort Worth Business, DRC Media. Contact him at rconnor@bizpress.net.

Richard Connor
Richard Connor is the owner and CEO/Publisher of DRC Media, the parent company of the Fort Worth Business Press. he also owns newspapers in Virginia. Mr. Connor held a number of corporate media executive positions before founding his own company. He is an award-winning columnist and at one time wrote a weekly column on national politics for CQ Politics, the online version of Washington, D.C.-based Congressional Quarterly.

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