1995 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"I had people helping me throughout my life . . . people always trying to give me a lift. I think they do that if they feel you’re out there making an effort."
The son of a tenant farmer, Dee Kelly was born and raised in Bonham, Texas. To earn extra money, Kelly's father sold insurance and his mother worked in a cotton mill. From his earliest days, Kelly recalls being taught an uncompromising code of values. "My parents didn't have much education," he says, "but they taught me the distinction between right and wrong. There wasn't much gray with them. You either did the right thing or you didn't."
Throughout his school years, Kelly worked odd jobs around their small town. He worked at an ice cream plant and a grocery store, and delivered newspapers. In high school, he played quarterback in football and wrote a column for the school newspaper. As a senior, he interviewed fellow Texan and U. S. Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn for the school paper. That meeting led Kelly to follow Rayburn on the campaign trail. Often, Kelly drove his pick-up truck to the campaign stops and Rayburn spoke from the back of the truck.
Kelly attended Texas Christian University on a scholarship, and worked as a dormitory monitor to pay for his room and board. He earned extra money on weekends by preaching in country churches. In doing research for his sermons, Kelly began reading the writings of Norman Vincent Peale, the Horatio Alger Association's co-founder, which had a positive influence on his daily life and goals.
After serving as student body president, Kelly graduated from college in 1950. He joined Sam Rayburn's staff in Washington, D.C., and attended George Washington University Law School at night. A year later, he served in the Air Force during the Korean War. He rose to the rank of lieutenant and returned to Washington after the war to complete law school. Kelly became a legal examiner for the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulated the oil and gas industry. He went on to serve as general counsel for oil producer W. A. Moncrief for several years, and then went into private practice in 1964. He founded Kelly, Hart & Hallman in 1979, which currently has 135 lawyers located in Fort Worth, Austin and Houston. Today, Kelly, Hart & Hallman represents a number of clients listed in the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans. Over the years, Kelly has expanded his business interests to include banking and real estate.
Kelly, who served as chairman of the Sam Rayburn Library and Foundation, says that his mentor was impressed with people who had a lot of common sense and who worked hard and had intelligence. "Hard work and determination, along with a little help along the way, are the secrets to success. The stories of the members of the Horatio Alger Association prove that."