The United States Army that Sam Kelly joined in 1944, as an 18-year-old boy from Connecticut, was segregated, and the new Private Kelly was on the wrong side of the color line until President Truman desegregated the armed forces starting in 1947. Despite a paper commitment to equal opportunity without regard to race or color, the United States Navy had only five black officers (out of 45,000 officers), and the Marine Corps had just one (out of 8,200). The Navy had commissioned its first black officers only in 1944. The Army had more black officers, but they served almost entirely in segregated units.
Private Kelly was a good student and a hard worker. By the time he retired from the Army 22 years after enlisting, he had earned two college degrees and a master's degree in history. He had also become a lieutenant colonel.
The newly retired Colonel Kelly went into education, becoming a history professor at two community colleges in Washington. Then in 1970, the president of the University of Washington recruited Professor Kelly away from the community colleges to become UW's vice president for minority affairs, a new position for UW. He earned a Ph.D. from UW the next year, thus becoming Doctor Kelly, and was granted tenure in the College of Education.
Dr. Kelly, who died at his Seattle-area home on July 6, touched our area because of what he chose to do after he retired from the University of Washington in 1991. He and his family moved to Vancouver, and he started to teach again, initially at Clark College and then at Rosemary Anderson High School in North Portland, where he soon became the executive director and principal. He increased the school's programs, tripled the number of students it served, and oversaw a doubling of the school building. He had a deep sympathy for students who could not succeed (many of whom he charmed, cajoled, or bullied into succeeding anyway), and none for students who would not try. He also had a great fondness for the crab cakes at McCormick & Schmick's and for homemade Louisiana-style seafood gumbo, which he served to his guests with gusto and enthusiasm.
He and his wife Donna changed houses more often than most. The one addition he insisted on making to each house was to add a flagpole, on which he proudly flew the flag of the nation that had told him half a century earlier that the color of his skin would likely keep him from becoming a colonel, a Ph.D., and a tenured professor.