Richard Kelly has made it his lifelong mission to honor the agricultural wisdom of the past while training the industry’s future leaders. He began his career as a high school agriculture teacher, went on to head up the state FFA program, and became an important adviser to Florida Agriculture Commissioner Doyle Conner. But agriculture was more than a day job for Kelly. For almost 50 years he has poured his free time and his own money into improving agriculture education and preserving Florida’s unique agricultural history.
Born in Ocala in 1937, Kelly earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the University of Florida in 1960 and a master’s degree in education in 1963. After graduation he worked as an agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at Santa Fe High School in Alachua. He later taught at Citrus High School in Inverness, where he developed a third-place state FFA parliamentary procedure team, a state FFA public speaker winner, and a state FFA president and vice-president.
From 1965 to 1969 he served at the Florida Department of Education in Tallahassee as executive secretary for the state FFA program. In this leadership position he worked to motivate, train, and equip agriculture educators across Florida. He developed a weeklong state convention for members and advisers, provided in-service training for teachers, and worked with the national organization to sponsor various educational activities for students. Even now Kelly continues to be involved with FFA as a volunteer. He helped found the Florida FFA Foundation and recently played an active role in securing a $50,000 grant to the Foundation to support teacher training.
From 1969 until his retirement in 1991, Kelly served as executive assistant to Commissioner Conner. He maintained liaison with the legislature and committee staff on a year-round basis and helped formulate the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ legislative programs and policies. He also coordinated statewide agricultural fair programs, served as the department’s liaison to UF-IFAS, and worked with the department’s division directors to form agricultural policy.
Kelly saw great success in his professional life and also in his efforts as a volunteer. For many years he has worked with the University of Florida’s Department of Agricultural Education and Communication to create and fund scholarships for agriculture students. Since 2002, funds have been generated for six new undergraduate scholarships totaling over $120,000.
Kelly has been active with Alpha Gamma Rho, the social and professional fraternity for agriculture students. He directed the work of the alumni association and education foundation at the University of Florida chapter. He also spent 12 years as vice president of the southeast region, visiting chapters in eight states and making sure academic standards were being met. He offered career counseling to fraternity members and helped them find internships and summer employment, and with every placement he showed the satisfaction of a proud parent.
Honoring the agricultural leaders of the past is as important to Kelly as training the leaders of the future. Kelly played a key role is establishing the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame, and for 20 years he has served as the Hall of Fame’s historian as well as the organizer of its annual banquet.
In 2001 Kelly founded the Seasoned Owls group for former Florida agriculture teachers and organized its first annual reunion dinner. He has served as director and treasurer of the University of Florida Alumni Association and was the first executive director of UF’s College of Agriculture Alumni and Friends.
Kelly’s leadership in the agriculture industry has earned him numerous accolades, including FFA’s highest honor, the Honorary American Farmer Degree. In 1997 he received UF’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Alumnus of Distinction Award, and in 2004 the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication honored him with the AEC Builder Award.
Richard Kelly died January 24, 2009. He is survived by his wife, Nell, of Tallahassee, three grown children, Lizette, Rick, and Bryce, three grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter.