George Mason University

News at Mason

University Mourns Passing of Michael R. Kelley

November 12, 2013

By Preston Williams

Michael R. Kelley. Creative Services photo

Michael R. Kelley. Creative Services photo

Michael R. Kelley, a Distinguished Service Professor whose diverse, four-decade George Mason University career included prominent stints as an English professor, telecommunications pioneer and professor in the School of Public Policy, died of cardiac arrest Monday afternoon, Nov. 11, at Washington Hospital Center. He was 73.

With expertise that stretched from his beloved Chaucer to the vagaries of broadband access policy, Kelley for 43 years was one of the university’s most visionary ambassadors.

In an e-mail sent to Mason faculty and staff Tuesday morning, President Ángel Cabrera remembered Kelley as “one of the longest-serving, kindest and most dedicated members of the Mason family. Mike was an entrepreneur in true Mason style. Just in the last few weeks he was helping us explore several innovative ventures to expand Mason’s reach. Our hearts go out to his wife and family at this time of loss.”

One of the many accomplishments of Kelley’s tenure was in 1981 founding The Capitol Connection through the GMU Instructional Foundation (GMUIF), an educational wireless cable television service.  Since 1984, GMUIF has contributed more than $5 million dollars to support Mason’s educational and community outreach missions.

Kelley, founding director of the school’s telecommunications master’s program, also established The F Corporation, which holds broadcast spectrum leases. He also was a faculty representative to the George Mason University Foundation Board of Trustees.

In recent years, Kelley had become a major presence on the Arlington Campus, sharing his practical experiences with students in the School of Public Policy.

“His skill as an entrepreneur was legendary,” says Kingsley Haynes, dean emeritus of the School of Public Policy. “We will miss his low-key, insightful manner and his open and friendly personality, as well as his insight and skill in real-world entrepreneurial activity. He was invaluable.”

“Mike embodied this university’s entrepreneurial spirit, and he was an amazingly versatile teacher and scholar,” says Mark Rozell, acting dean of the School of Public Policy. “His passing is an enormous loss to this school and to our university.”

University Day video celebrating 40-year employees, including Michael Kelley (see 1:48-2:33; 4:30-5:44; 6:32-6:55).

Kelley had a deep love of local broadcasting and formerly owned two radio stations in Virginia. He also served a term as a director of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a position that required U.S. Senate confirmation.

“What amazed me is how he steered [The Capitol Connection] through the turbulent fiscal times of the late ‘90’s, bringing it safely through while most other telecoms collapsed on the rocks,” says Joy Hughes, a professor in the Volgenau School of Engineering who while in university administration served with Kelley on the GMUIF Board of Trustees. “His ability to build relationships in government and industry and his focus on what would be best for Mason gave him the energy and power to succeed where others floundered.”

Kelley, who earned his doctorate in English literature and linguistics from Catholic University, wrote two books, “Flamboyant Drama: A Study of ‘The Castle of Perseverance, Mankind, and Wisdom’” (1979) and “A Parent’s Guide to Television” (1983).

“Mike was a genius and self-taught Renaissance man,” says Julia Morelli, director of operations for The Capitol Connection/GMUIF.  “He began his academic career as an English professor teaching Chaucer, worked in radio in the 1960s and taught the ever-changing capstone class in telecommunications in more recent years.  The university benefited greatly from his uncanny ability to recognize good business opportunities, and his colleagues in the telecom industry revered him.  Mike cared about the people he worked with and described The Capitol Connection as part of his family.  He will be missed by many.”

In a video interview recorded in 2011 for University Day, when Kelley was honored for 40 years of service, he said that he had no interest in stepping away from the university.

“Forty years is a long time, and it makes you think about where you’re going in the future and how long you’re going to have to go there,” Kelley said at the time. “I’ve thought about retirement, but that doesn’t appeal to me at all. I don’t know what I’d do.”

Kelley is survived by his wife, Robin, and a son, Owen, by a previous marriage. Friends and colleagues can share thoughts and condolences for his family at the School of Public Policy website.

Plans are under way for a memorial service at Mason. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests sending donations in the name of Kelley’s son, Owen, to Arc of Northern Virginia, 2755 Hartland Road, Suite 200, Falls Church, VA 22043; phone 703-532-3214.