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City of Palm Desert Remembers Dick Kelly As Dedicated Public Servant

Post Date:08/23/2010
The City of Palm Desert is mourning the loss of one of its leading citizens and most dedicated public servants with the recent death of longtime resident and City Councilman Dick Kelly.

“Palm Desert has lost a great champion and we have lost a dear friend,” said City Manager John Wohlmuth. “We feel profound sadness for our loss and deep gratitude for the many years of service that Mr. Kelly gave to our community. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Mary Helen and his entire family.”

Richard S. Kelly was elected to the Palm Desert City Council in 1982 and had served on the body ever since. During that time, he was appointed to six separate terms as Mayor by his Council colleagues.

A partial list of Mr. Kelly’s many accomplishments while on the Council includes his successful push for a policy encouraging the use of drought tolerant landscaping throughout the community, vigorous advocacy for the development of Desert Willow Golf Resort, and lead role in the establishment of a curbside recycling program for the City before such things were common for municipal government.

He played an important part in devising and working for the passage of Measure A, which in 1988 established the Transportation Uniform Mitigation Fee or TUMF fee in the Coachella Valley. The fee is paid by developers to offset the cost of road improvements required by growth.

Other achievements include his successful efforts, while on the SunLine Transit Agency board, to switch the mass transit agency’s fleet of buses from diesel fuel to clean burning compressed natural gas. Mr. Kelly also was an early supporter of Palm Desert’s groundbreaking Golf Cart Transportation Program, which allows people to use the environmentally friendly electric vehicles on many City streets.

Mr. Kelly’s dedication to excellence and service were on display throughout his life. An accomplished high school and college athlete who was born and raised in Southern California, Dick Kelly left college to serve as a pilot in the in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.

After the war, he accepted a temporary job with the California Water and Telephone Company. What was supposed to be a two-week job turned into a 36-year career in telecommunications that concluded with his retirement in 1983 as Coachella Valley Division Manager for GTE. Along the way, he immersed himself in the field, doing every job from climbing poles and heavy construction to strategic planning and senior management. Mr. Kelly said one of his proudest accomplishments during this time was improving phone service in Palm Desert.

His work for the phone company sparked an interest in local government. In November 1982, he ran for a seat on the Palm Desert City Council and won. He soon retired from the phone company to devote more attention to his new job representing the citizens of Palm Desert. He would continue to devote that kind of focused attention to his Council duties for the next 28 years.

Although he garnered numerous awards and was appointed to many offices, Mr. Kelly always cited his 65-year marriage to high school sweetheart Mary Helen as his happiest accomplishment.

A visitation has been scheduled at Trinity Lutheran Church of Indio, 81-500 Miles Avenue, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, September 1. A memorial service will be held at Palm Desert Community Presbyterian Church, 47-321 Highway 74, on Saturday, September 4, at 10 a.m. Plans for a reception will be announced later.

In lieu of flowers, Mr. Kelly’s family has invited contributions to: the Palm Desert Rotary Foundation Scholarship Fund honoring Dick and Mary Helen Kelly, P.O. Box 48, Palm Desert, CA, 92261; or, the Trinity Lutheran Child Development Center, P. O. Box W, Indio, CA, 92202-2595.
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