(Published Oct. 18, 1993.)
They threw a big dinner for Dee Kelly the other night, and the supposedly reclusive Sid Bass was right there giving the keynote speech.
And I don’t blame you for asking, “Who is Dee Kelly?”
There is no Kelly Museum in Fort Worth, or Kelly Symphony Center or even a Kelly School of Political Science.
His name is seldom in the Star-Telegram, except in arcane sentences like: “Also attending was Fort Worth attorney Dee Kelly.”
You may not know his name. But in Fort Worth, he is close in spirit to an Amon G. Carter.
Kelly is a one-man gang helping call the shots for politics, for business and for the great families who nourish this city with their own money and dreams.
You will know the companies Kelly has served as a little ol’ “Fort Worth attorney”: American Airlines, the Bass Brothers Enterprises oil and investments empire, art patron Anne W. Marion’s Burnett Ranches estate, the baseball Texas Rangers, Justin boots, Pier 1 Imports.
And you know many of his friends who get their names in the newspaper far more often: Nancy Lee and Perry Bass, Betty and Jim Wright, B.A. and Lloyd Bentsen, Nellie Connally and her late husband, John.
At Connally’s funeral, the news story said only: “Also a pallbearer was Fort Worth attorney Dee Kelly.”
At Sid and Mercedes Bass’ recent wingding to open their Oak Hill estate, the story said: “Also attending was Fort Worth attorney Dee Kelly.”
From his Washington days as an administrative assistant for House Speaker Sam Rayburn to his Fort Worth career brokering millions of political dollars for conservative Democrats and a few selected Republicans, Kelly has been far more than an “also.”
His friends gathered Thursday night to induct him into the Fort Worth Business Hall of Fame, a notably public black-tie bash at the hallowed downtown Fort Worth Club.
Fellow attorney Tom Law grinned when he introduced Kelly as “one of the ablest, brightest, most energetic … not to mention, richest lawyers in all of Texas.”
Sid Bass said: “If you think I look familiar, I’m Ed’s brother.”
Then he called Kelly “a close friend, a confidante, a man who combines intense competitiveness and loyalty … [with] the ability to concentrate on one subject to the exclusion of everything else.”
At 64, Kelly still works with the force of an oncoming locomotive. None of that stop-and-smell stuff here, Bass said: “I don’t think we’re in any danger of having the roses distract his attention.”
In accepting, Kelly poked fun at his own temperamental ways, then replied: “Patience is a virtue I hope to find more of in middle age.”
I’m writing about Kelly today because more of you need to know about him, and how he is more than an “also.”
I am always amazed how many readers seriously complain about the families who have built this city, the visionaries who gave us Middle America’s best children’s hospital and three famous museums and a thrilling zoo and — this gets more important every year — a clean and safe downtown.
Dee Kelly and his wife, Janice, are among those families. You should know about that.
He is more than “a Fort Worth attorney.” Much more.