In Memoriam: Dee J. Kelly Sr.
The Briscoe Center mourns the passing of Dee J. Kelly Sr., a prominent Fort Worth attorney and a dedicated patron of the center’s Sam Rayburn Museum in Bonham, Texas. Kelly was a trustee and former chair of the Sam Rayburn Foundation, which operated the Rayburn Museum until 1991. Under Kelly’s leadership, the foundation transferred ownership of the museum to the Briscoe Center, where it continued to benefit from the advocacy of Kelly and the foundation.
“A natural politico and a giant of the Texas legal community, Dee served his community with skill and generosity,” said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. “A former member of the center’s Advisory Council, Dee worked tirelessly to promote the legacy of his mentor, Sam Rayburn.”
Dee Kelly was born in Bonham, Texas in 1929 to a family of modest means. He graduated from TCU in 1950. When subsequently studying law in Washington, Kelly worked as a clerk for legendary U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn. Upon completing his studies and with encouragement from Rayburn, he returned to North Texas.
“‘Go home.’ It was the best advice I ever got,” recalled Kelly in a 2011 interview.
Kelly went on to become one of the most prominent lawyers in Texas with offices in Fort Worth, Austin, New Orleans and Midland. He was also a force in state politics as a fundraiser and kingmaker on the local level in Fort Worth and as the friend of numerous governors, state officials and U.S. presidents.
“He had the capability of melding politics and business,” said Julian Read, a member of the Briscoe Center’s advisory council. “Dee could move between the business and the political world, and it was a large part of his success.”
Kelly joined the board of the Sam Rayburn Foundation in 1976. As the foundation’s chairman, he presided over the 1991 transfer of the museum to the Briscoe Center. Under his leadership, the foundation continued to support the efforts of the center, including the 2012 renovation of the museum’s permanent exhibit. In 2014, Kelly stepped down as chairman but remained a committed and enthusiastic trustee.
“In its work as a charitable trust, the Rayburn Foundation remains a great friend of the Rayburn museum and the Briscoe Center,” said Carleton. “As a board member, chairman and trustee of the foundation, Dee served with distinction for over five decades.”