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Jerry Kelley ’44

October 14, 2018, in Lacey, Washington.

Born in Spokane, Washington, Jerry moved with his family to West Seattle and graduated from West Seattle High School. His mother, Norma Golden Rule Kelley, had finished 10th grade and his father, Albert, graduated from high school, but Jerry was the first in his family to go to college.

In the third grade, he was given the assignment of writing a Christmas story and wrote a poem about the birth of Christ. The work must have seemed accomplished beyond the ability of so young a scribe. “He couldn’t possibly have written that poem,” his teacher told his parents. The experience devastated Jerry and he didn’t write another poem until long after college. Later in life, he’d compose poems to commemorate occasions like funerals and weddings, and writing poetry became very important to him.

He was a rapid learner and was allowed to skip grades. By the time he finished with high school, Jerry was a scrawny kid almost two years younger than his classmates.

“I was so far behind physically and socially that I wanted to stay out of school and work for at least a year, to catch up,” he remembered. The summer of 1939, and for the following three summers, he worked in a salmon cannery in southeast Alaska.

“I was thrown in with the big, tough, strong, rough guys,” he said, “and I was a wide-eyed kid.” When he was 83 years old, he wrote a book about the experience, Reaching for Manhood at Steamboat Bay.

Jerry returned to Seattle, began working in a warehouse, and started looking for better jobs. At the Washington State Employment Service, he completed a series of tests. A counselor at the service, who was a part-time instructor at the University of Washington, asked Jerry, “Why are you not in college? You should not even go to the University of Washington; you won’t be challenged. Do you know anything about Reed College? Go to Reed.”

Jerry started at Reed when he was 17 years old, and while he admitted he didn’t come to Reed with a developed discipline in the world of books and discussion, he said, “It was a wonderful, absolutely marvelous experience for me.”

One professor he remembered fondly was Prof. Dorothy Johansen ’33 [history 1934–84]. “Dorothy Jo was absolutely wonderful,” he remembered. “We were her ‘little cabbages’ and she was just marvelous.”

After his sophomore year, he got a job managing the student union building and lived upstairs in the building. Fred Shorter ’44 comanaged the building with him, and they were the only two students in an advanced economics class with Prof. William Blair Stewart [economics 1925–49].

“As so often happened at Reed, with the whole honor system and the kind of trust and the approach that was used to learning, a great deal was left up to us,” Jerry recalled. “The final exam was just a single-question exam that involved developing a whole theory as a way of answering the question. It was a take-home exam and Fred and I decided to take it at the same time. We sat virtually back-to-back for a couple of hours in this little room at our desks in the student union building and wrote the papers. When we got them back, it turned out that we had gone in totally divergent directions with our answers. But each of us had used the material that we had been exposed to over the course of the year and developed a theory which was tenable, well maintained, and well presented. We both got high commendation for entirely different answers. 

“That was the most singularly memorable experience that I had connected with the academic part of Reed. There’s a real value placed on problem solving, using oneself and using it honorably, within the context of advancement of whatever the subject matter is.”

Jerry wrote his thesis, “The Tariff and the Lumber Industry of the Pacific Northwest,” with Prof. Stewart advising.

After Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in a program that would take him into active service in two years. By going to summer school, he was able to graduate before being called to duty in the navy in March 1944.

Jerry once said that his career actually started at Reed, with an alleged break in the honor system. A student who had been caught cheating in her written work denied it. The student council asked Jerry to counsel the student, help her face up to what was happening, and thus face a less harsh penalty. Over the next week he took walks with her and the two talked.

Jerry recalled, “At the end of that time, I can’t tell you what I did, except that somehow I was empathic enough, reassuring enough, and realistic enough that she did say, ‘Yes, I did cheat, and I’m sorry. I want to face up to it.’ I don’t remember what the penalty was, but that was my first inclination that I had some aptitude in the human relations realm.”

While he was in the navy, one of his former Reed roommates put Jerry in touch with a relative who was a prominent social worker. “As far as I was concerned, social work was a basketful of goodies that you carried to poor people and so as a profession, I had never even thought of it,” Jerry said. But he began reading books by the great psychologists of the 20th century and putting together a career plan.

To become a psychiatrist would mean starting over, getting a science education and then on to medical school. Being a psychologist would require getting a PhD, and Jerry didn’t want to go to school that long. He could complete a master’s in social work in two years. After earning a master’s in social work from the University of Chicago, he met his wife, Vivian, while working in Chicago. They lived in the area for about 14 years and had three sons. Jerry was a social worker in New York for two and a half years, and then was recruited as a professor at the University of Washington. He and Vivian raised their boys in Bellevue.

Jerry loved teaching, and when he was 52, he found a new love—playing soccer. But after his leg got clobbered in a game, Vivian suggested, “Why don’t you take up refereeing?” He was the oldest active soccer referee in the state when he began at the age of 54 and refereed into his 70s.

He was a wordsmith who enjoyed writing; he liked puns, wine making, singing, and serving martinis at 5 p.m. Eight years after becoming legally blind, he wrote and published the memoirs of his summers spent in rough-’n’-tough Alaska.

“The experience at Reed helped me become, I hope, a thoughtful, analytic, adult male,” Jerry said. “It developed an appreciation of that learning system that is deep in me, that I would fight for. The little money that we have, we give way more to Reed than to any other source, because of that. And Vivian, bless her heart, goes along with me on that.”

Jerry is survived by his wife, Vivian, and his sons, Mark and Mike.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2018

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