Charles S. Kelley, the father of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary First Lady Dorothy Kelley Patterson and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Charles S. “Chuck” Kelley Jr., died peacefully in New Orleans, La., Dec. 9. He was 86 years old. Doris, his wife of 64 years, five children, eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren survive him.
A visitation will take place Dec. 12, 9-11 a.m., in Leavell Chapel on the campus of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The funeral service will follow at 11 a.m. in the Leavell Chapel. A memorial service and internment will be conducted Dec. 13, starting at 10 a.m., at the Claybar-Kelley-Watkins Funeral Home in Beaumont, Texas. In lieu of flowers, Kelley’s family requests that memorials be given to a local church, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, or Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Charles S. Kelley was born in Detroit, Mich., on May 17, 1920, and grew up in Piggott, Ark. As a young boy, he began working in a local hardware store to help support his family. In 1940, he moved to San Antonio, Texas, where he started working in the offices of Graham Paper Company. Kelley met Doris Weisiger, an office secretary at the First Baptist Church of San Antonio, and the couple married in 1942.
Kelley served in the Army Air Corps as a troop transport pilot in the southwest Pacific during World War II, and flew a great number of missions. Returning home to his wife and firstborn child, Kelley received orders to report to Hondo, Texas, and was honorably discharged in 1945. He returned to his job at Graham Paper Company in San Antonio.
A few months after his second child was born, the Hixson family of Lake Charles, La., offered Kelley a position in their family-owned funeral home. They told Kelley they would buy another funeral home if he liked the business, and promised to make him the managing partner of that business. They also told him that some day he could buy all of it. They kept their word.
Kelley found his calling in the funeral business. The Hixsons made it possible for him to attend Landig College of Mortuary Science in Houston. He served as treasurer for his class and graduated in 1948. The Hixsons bought Roberts Undertaking Company of Beaumont, Texas, in 1949, and named Kelley the managing partner. A short time later, the Hixsons bought Pipkin-Brulin Funeral Home, thus merging two of Beaumont’s oldest funeral homes. Kelley was named managing partner of Roberts and Pipkin-Brulin Funeral Home. In 1962, the name was changed to the Kelley-Hixson Funeral Home. By 1965, Kelley had become the sole owner of what was then the Golden Triangle’s largest single funeral firm, operating an ambulance, including air service, as well.
Kelley showed great ingenuity and creativity in his business. When he and the Hixsons built a new funeral facility in Beaumont, they designed it to look like a gracious residence. He was a pioneer in advertising for funeral directors. He was one of the first funeral directors to use color in print ads and to advertise on television, often appearing in his own TV spots.
A funeral director in Beaumont for more than 42 years, Kelley devoted himself to making the hardest of times easier for grieving families. His compassionate, caring manner brought solace to many and earned him the respect of his peers and the gratitude of the residents of the Golden Triangle. During his tenure as manager, then partner, and finally owner, Kelley-Hixson Funeral Home became the leading funeral home in the area. Kelley added to the full-service funeral home the Haven of Rest cemetery, and a crematorium, the first in that area.
Kelley was a leader in the Preferred Funeral Directors, International, serving as the organization’s president and treasurer. He served on the board of directors of the Funeral Directors and Embalmers of Texas. He received the prestigious Texas Funeral Directors Association Distinguished Service Award in 1983.
Perhaps his passion for the funeral business came from the fact that Kelley saw it as a calling to ministry. He often said that funeral directors are like ministers, and the role of a funeral director was that of a listener. He thought the function of a funeral director was to provide the time, place, and atmosphere for grieving families and friends to come together and share their grief. Yet he reminded his employees that they dealt with the living, not the dead.
“At these times, people are hurting,” Kelley would say. “We can relieve the hurt by providing good service and care.”
When Kelley retired in 1991, he sold his business to Frank Watkins, a 23-year veteran of the funeral business. Watkins later sold the business to the Claybar family of Orange, Texas, who have continued the tradition of family-operated service. In personal correspondence from 1983, Mr. Claybar wrote, “Mr. Kelley is a role model for the funeral practitioner and has been successful in every facet of funeral service.”
Kelley was active in the Lions Club, the Beaumont Knife and Fork Club, the Beaumont Chamber of Commerce, and he served as president of the Marshall Junior High School Parent-Teacher Association in Beaumont. He was an active member of the First Baptist Church of Beaumont for more than 50 years, during which time he served as chairman of the deacons, Sunday School teacher, and in leadership positions as a member of many committees. For 11 years starting in 1963, Kelley and some business partners developed Wildwood Resort City, including a man-made lake, north of Beaumont on 1,800 acres of woodland.
Kelley served on the board of trustees of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. During this time, he and Doris made a pledge of $100,000 to Midwestern Seminary for its capital campaign. It was the largest pledge in that seminary’s history. Initially, the pledge was to be paid upon sale of a piece of investment property. However, the Kelleys decided that they wanted to encourage other trustees and friends of the seminary to support the seminary during the period it was without a president, and completed the pledge far ahead of schedule.
Kelley’s children have taken up his mantle of Christian ministry in a variety of ways. Daughter Dorothy is the wife of Paige Patterson, president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Daughter Kathy Kelley is an elementary school librarian in Las Vegas, Nev. Daughter Charlene Kelley is a registered nurse in Fort Worth. Son Charles S. “Chuck” Kelley Jr. is president of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and is married to Rhonda. Daughter Eileen Kelley Turrentine is the wife of Steve Turrentine, pastor of Pikes Peak Park Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Kelley’s eight grandchildren are: Armour Patterson of Arizona; Carmen Patterson Howell of Houston; Beth Kaemmerling of Dallas; Angie Kaemmerling Brock of Broken Arrow, Okla.; Kelley Kaemmerling Wagner of Farmersville, Texas; Perry Kaemmerling of Waxahachie, Texas; Claire Kaemmerling and Sarah Turrentine are pursuing baccalaureate degrees.
Kelley’s son-in-law Paige Patterson made this statement in tribute: “In addition to being a fabulous father, Dad was the quintessential local churchman. He was the deacon that every pastor wishes he had. His devotion extended beyond the local church to the institutions and agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention. In addition to serving on the Human Welfare Commission and State Missions Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, he also served as a member of the board of trustees of Midwestern Seminary. He gave generously not only there but also to New Orleans Seminary, where his son now serves as president, and to Southeastern Seminary, where his daughter served alongside me while I was president of that institution. Dad and Mom followed us to Southwestern Seminary with their membership in the President’s Club. As a mortician, he ended up much more as a minister to the grieving than as a funeral director burying the dead. In short, few men have ever lived so unselfishly as Charles S. Kelley.”