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Ed Kelley: from the farm to the Foreign Service

By Staff | Nov 25, 2009

Ed Kelley

In 1957 Ed Kelly was a History major at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

He had already served four years in the Navy and was now, thanks to the GI Bill, in the work study program at a school that focused on international studies and had an enrollment of wealthy kids.

Unlike most of the boys, Ed was not wealthy and he was not a boy. He was a man, a veteran and had seen a lot of the world. He was used to taking chances and making choices that took him out of his comfort zone and he enjoyed the risk. One evening a group of girls from Wittenburg College, in neighboring Springfield, came into Ye Olde Trail Tavern where Ed was working. Wittenburg was, and is, a college with a long and prestigious history, (Andrew Carnegie money). The young ladies from Wittenburg took a road trip to Yellow Springs that night “to” according to the Antioch freshman “observe the Bohemians in their native habitat.” Hands down, the cutest girl in the bunch was Kitty Barrich, a sophomore from Frederick, MD. By the end of the evening Ed had taken a risk that paid off big time. He asked Kitty for her phone number. “I was their waiter.” He laughed. Three years later Ed and Kitty were married.

Edmund Hamilton Kelly is from Kelbourne, Ohio, the younger of Ruth Elizabeth Curran and Albert Rice Kelly’s two boys, David and Ed. The Kelly’s lived on a dairy farm. “My father loved farming.” said Ed. “He sold farm products to finance our farm but it was the depression and it was very tough going.” Albert died of TB when Ed was just five years old. Eventually Ruth remarried. Luther Sheets, his step-son said was “a good man.”

Ed went to a school that housed all twelve grades and has fond memories but “I had to get off that farm. I liked the people but not the farm.” He enrolled in Ohio State to study engineering and wasn’t through the first quarter before he realized engineering was not for him. So he left Ohio State and enlisted in the Navy. “I wanted to sail the seven seas and guess where they sent me.Norman, Oklahoma.” He was assigned to basic aviation training where they taught the very basics like “Don’t walk into a moving propeller.” After a stint in Lakehurst, N.J., Ed was sent to Fleet Weather Central in Yokosuka, Japan and his fascination with Asia and the Far East was ignited.

When his Navy days ended Ed enrolled in Antioch. “I chose to study History because from there you could learn damn near anything.” He knew he wanted a career in the Foreign Service and history was great preparation to qualify for a commission as a Foreign Service Officer. While in Antioch’s work study program he was given great opportunities that included work at the UN General Assembly, research at Colonial Williamsburg and with Cleveland Council on World Affairs. He’d also taken summer language courses in Chinese at Yale.

In 1961 Ed entered the American Foreign Service Institute in Arlington. Kitty was teaching in the Arlington elementary school system. Ed kept pushing for a post in the Far East. Nothing was available until General Maxwell Taylor came back from Viet Nam and needed a staff assistant for his task force. Ed fought for and got the staff assistant appointment. In 1964 Ed was assigned to Korea as a political officer and he and Kitty went to live in Soule.

For the next twenty five years Ed held posts in Korea, Laos, Peru, Japan and Washington, DC. His tours for the State Department included assignments as an East Asian country desk officer (Korea;) analyzing the six-country Andean Pact and advising American firms on its effects, (Peru); as Deputy Consul-General (Japan) and as a policy officer for security assistance in 113 countries. There were other assignments, other bureaus each honing Ed’s expertise in security assistance, budgeting, scientific and tech cooperation in the Middle East. He then served as Congressional liaison on all these issues.

Sean Hamilton Kelly was born in Soule in 1966. “Hamilton is Sean’s middle name and my father’s step-father’s name, Kitty’s father and grandfather’s name. Some choices are easy to make when there are plenty of precedents.” The Kelly’s lived in Soule until 1970 then Ed was assigned to Laos. Laos, home of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, wasn’t very safe in the early 70s. Ed pooh-poohs that but history proves it true. He was the Deputy Chief of the Political Section at the Embassy in Vientiane and the US role required members of the Mission to travel throughout the entire country.

On one of many such trips, Ed, Kitty and Sean were in a small plane on a flight back to Vientiane from Luang Prabang. Sean, then six, was bored and went into the cockpit to chat with the pilots. They let the little guy wear earphones and listen to chatter. Ed joined him on the little adventure. It was a sweet father/son moment. Mom entered just as “MIG ALERT! MIG ALERT! Everybody out of the barrel! MIG ALERT!” Blared out of the radio. Kitty looked at her husband and said “What does all this mean? Are we going to land?” Ed looked back and said “We can’t.” So much for being safe.

However, they did land safely and were in Laos for another year. By the time Sean entered high school (Walt Whitman in Bethesda) and college (Lehigh in PA) the Kellys were back in the states living in Cabin John, MD and Ed was assigned to the State Department. They had returned after Ed’s tour of duty in Japan in 1980. Today Sean lives in Scarsdale, NY with wife Suzanne Edwards, daughter Shannon Elizabeth (15) and son Scott Hamilton (12). Sean is Scott’s football coach. He’s also George Soros’ director of operations in NYC. “Imagine that accomplishment” said Ed, “by a guy whose dad can’t balance his checkbook.”

Ed calls himself a dilettante. “Some time in the late 80s or early 90s I decided to satisfy a youthful yearning to fly. Not wanting to be subject to the rules, regulations of regular flight, I spent a summer taking lessons in how to survive take-offs, eye-ball navigation, and landings in an open-air ultra-light aircraft. It was fun. Once it became routine I shifted my goal to boating so we bought a houseboat.” There are other examples, each explained with a chuckle and interesting rationale.

Ed retired from government service in 1986, the last six years representing scientific and technology issues to Congress as State Department Congressional Relations Officer. Next stop, public affairs with the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Rockville. In 1990 Ed was hired as Executive Director of a newly-formed The Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics. The members were clinics associated with universities and teaching hospitals working with patients with environment and occupation related conditions. “The battle against the effects of Agent Orange had already begun. Our members were the prime source of expertise and experience that more activist groups could draw on.”

Ed left AOEC in 1997, picked up a paralegal degree at U. of Maryland and went to work part-time as assistant to the General Counsel and VP of the Nuclear Fuel Services in Rockville. One year later, while thinking about moving outside the Beltway, Ed and Kitty happened into the Pharmacy Caf in Shepherdstown for lunch one weekend, “We looked at each other and said ‘Why not?” So they bought a great house out off Shepherd Grade and for the next six years Ed commuted to Rockville by train.

Ed and Kitty Kelly had just spent a lifetime in the international embassy and DC social scene and they fell in love with Shepherdstown – “The Shepherd U. Music Department was the biggest attraction for us. ” They found a home and immediately jumped in and got involved: Roots & Shoots at the elementary school, the Audubon Society, Meals on Wheels, Day of Caring, The Men’s Club and the list goes on.

Ed Kelly is one of those guys who has built a life on risks – dangerous, intense and passionate, he’s been a risk taker most of his life. This Ohio farm boy who loved the people but not the life, who fought to work in the Far East during the ’60s, who grabbed opportunity to study Chinese at Yale and work for the UN General Assembly, and wait tables at Ye Olde Trail Tavern, Ed has always just seized the moment. He calls himself a dilettante; I say he’s a charming breath of fresh air.

– Sue Kennedy is a former public relations executive and Emmy Award winning screenplay writer.