Dear Fellow Page Members,

I have some sad news to share with you today. Our dear friend and former Page member, Kathleen Kelly, passed away on Wednesday at age 77 after suffering for several years with COPD.

I am grateful for Kathleen’s many contributions to Page. Our founders may have had someone like her in mind when they decided to open up membership to a few leaders in public relations education. Certainly, their vision of enriching our discussions with a learned academic perspective and, equally, reflecting the experience of the practice back into the academy, was fulfilled more than they could have imagined by her long and distinguished membership in Page.

She was a leader within our organization, particularly on the Membership Committee, which she co-chaired with Diane Gage Lofgren, who passed away in January. I’ve long said that this is among the most important and least appreciated leadership roles in Page. Kathleen’s work to define membership criteria for new categories, including non-profit organizations, and clear-eyed and fair application of those criteria in many difficult and sometimes controversial decisions, was a gift of incalculable value.

Kathleen retired in 2019 from the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications after 16 years, including three years as chair of the Public Relations Department. She was widely recognized as the leading authority on fundraising as a specialization of public relations, and wrote two award-winning books on fundraising, including the first academic textbook on the subject: “Effective Fund-Raising Management.”  

Kathleen received three of the highest awards in public relations teaching and research: the 2004 Outstanding Educator Award from PRSA, the 1999 Jackson and Wagner Behavioral Science Prize from the PRSA Foundation, and the 1995 Pathfinder Award in recognition of lifetime achievement in public relations research from the Institute for Public Relations. 

Here are some tributes from fellow Page members:

From Rita Men of University of Florida:

Kathleen was a legend. Her authentic character, charisma, kindness, wisdom, elegance, boldness, sense of humor, genuine passion for what she does, and deep care for the profession, made her truly one of a kind. She’s someone whom I held in highest regard, dearly to my heart, and whom I wanted to be someday (though I know I would never be able to be like her). She was a master teacher, a fabulous scholar, and an internationally recognized thought leader. She was an amazing human being with a kind and most generous heart. She made such a huge and profound impact on the PR profession and thousands of students and mentees’ lives. I was so blessed to have had Kathleen as my mentor, colleague and friend. I will always miss her.

From Bill Nielsen, formerly of Johnson & Johnson:

Kathleen was a delight to be with. I had the privilege of being invited by her to the campus to meet with students. I was very impressed by her knowledge and the urgency she expressed about the essential role public relations plays in any well-managed organization.

From Bob Grupp of University of Florida:

My wife, Jan, and I had many fun times with Kathleen and George at Page events, at IPR and at the University of Florida over the past 30 years. Kathleen was a good person; she had a sweet heart, a sharp mind and a classy style. Colleagues will remember her as accomplished researcher and a wonderful teacher who was loved by her students and colleagues alike. She will be missed.

From Don Stacks of University of Miami:

Kathy was a force in nonprofit public relations.  Her research was groundbreaking and her mentorship of many academics and professionals helped advance the study of public relations and corporate communication.  As chair of the University of Florida’s Department of Public Relations in the College of Journalism and Communications (the largest public relations academic department in the U.S.), she led an innovative program that produced quality education and research.

From Don Wright of Boston University:

Kathleen was one of the nation's most respected public relations educators. She was a leading authority on the concept of fundraising, and played a major role in developing teaching and research about the not-for-profit aspects of our industry. In addition to teaching at the University of Florida (and prior to that at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette), she also served several years as chair of Florida's public relations department, widely recognized as one of the nation's best.

From Shannon Bowen of University of South Carolina:

Kathleen Kelly (Kathy) represented the best of the Maryland scholarly tradition in public relations that was started by James E. Grunig. She went on to extend excellence theory to her own areas of scholarship, primarily fundraising, and to educate students at the University to Louisiana at Lafayette and later to develop doctoral students at one of the leading public relations programs in the world at the University of Florida. Her tradition will carry on that lineage of scholarly research with myriad practical applications. Kathy could always be counted on for a sunny attitude, a bright dress, and an even brighter smile. She was “the” source for anything fundraising-related, a force in the Maryland School of theory, and will be sorely missed as mentor, professor, scholar, and friend.

And from Pat Ford of University of Florida:

The UF community is indeed deeply saddened, but her impact extends far beyond this institution or even the academic world itself.  When I arrived at UF in 2017, Kathleen was still a very important and revered member of the faculty, but also dealing with some health challenges, so I knew her more from our time together on the IPR board and from her overall leadership and renown.  She combined scholarship, leadership, authenticity and purpose in a rare way. This is a big loss for the PR profession, where those traits are more important than ever.

Kathleen’s good-natured sense of humor and respect for others made her a particularly valued colleague and friend. Here’s a link to her obituary. Please note that her family has requested that in lieu of flowers or gifts, friends may donate in the name of Dr. Kathleen Kelly to the PRSA Multicultural Scholarship Fund.