Dr. James H. Kelly, former chairman of GBMC Department of Otolaryngology, dies

Dr. James H. Kelly, died from a blood clot at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. He was 74.
Dr. James H. Kelly, died from a blood clot at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. He was 74. (Handout)

Dr. James H. Kelly, former chairman of Greater Baltimore Medical Center’s Department of Otolaryngology, who specialized in helping people with swallowing disorders, died Feb. 8 of complications from cancer at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson.

The Ruxton resident was 74.


“He was beloved by students, trainees, staff and his patients. He had wonderful professional judgment and was an excellent teacher,” said Dr. Thomas F. Lansdale III, a semi-retired Baltimore internist who now works in hospice care.

Dr. Lansdale said they were colleagues at GBMC when Dr. Kelly chaired of the otolaryngology department and he was chief of medicine.


“He was also a patient of mine and a close friend for over 20 years,” Dr. Lansdale said. “He had a twinkle in his eye and could always light up a room. It hurts to lose a friend like Jim. It was a joy to know him.”

“He was the consummate clinician and educator. He had Southern charm and brought a wealth of experience from his training in Boston to Baltimore,” said Dr. David E. Tunkel, director of pediatric otolaryngology at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

“He had an excellent memory and was very good at communicating his knowledge to the residents and staff at GBMC,” he said. “His door was always open. His time was your time.”

James Haynes Kelly was born in Savannah, Ga., and raised there and in Cheraw, S.C. He was the son of the Rev. John L. Kelly, an Episcopal priest, and M. Kathryn Kelly, a homemaker.


After graduating in 1960 from Cheraw High School, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in 1964 from the University of Georgia, then received a medical degree in 1968 from the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

From 1968 to 1969, he was a surgical intern at Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville, Tenn., then an assistant resident in surgery, also at Vanderbilt, from 1969 to 1970.

While serving as a captain with the Army Reserve Otolaryngology Service from 1968 to 1971, he was posted at Tripler Army Hospital in Honolulu and treated wounded soldiers requiring specialty surgery. He later served in a similar capacity as a major at Madigan General Hospital in Tacoma, Wash. He also served at Fort Hood Army Hospital, Texas, from 1972 to 1973.

From 1973 to 1974, he was in private practice and was a member of the emergency room staff at Bradley Memorial Hospital in Southington, Conn. From 1973 to 1974, he held a similar position at Meriden-Wallingford Hospital in Meriden, Conn., then completed a residency in otolaryngology from 1974 to 1977 at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary at the Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Between 1977 and 1985, he held positions at numerous facilities, including the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, also in Boston, and Harvard Medical School.

He also established the Joint Center of Otolaryngology, a private practice, with several colleagues, and was a consultant at the Sidney Farber Institute in Boston.

In 1985 he was named associate professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Johns Hopkins Medical School.

Other positions included chief of otolaryngology at Sinai Hospital, chairman of the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at GBMC, and associate professor in the department of neurology at Hopkins.

During his tenure at GBMC, the otolaryngology program was named as national best by U.S. News & World Report.

He developed cleft palate and cochlear implant programs and brought Hopkins head and neck surgery faculty to GBMC, where they could collaborate with their counterparts.

“He ushered GBMC otolaryngology into new times when he partnered with the Hopkins training program,” Dr. Tunkel said.

He also established a facial reconstructive clinic for children with cleft palates.

“He was a beloved faculty member in the department,” said Dr. David W. Eisele, director of the Johns Hopkins Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. “He developed strong relationships and was one of our best faculty members in terms of engagement with our trainees. All of our residents... looked up to Jim as a role model.”

Dr. William J. Richtsmeier, former chief of otolaryngology at Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown, N.Y., had been a Hopkins colleague, and said residents benefited from “Jim’s care and teaching.”

“Almost nothing ever surprised him,” he said. “If you came to him with a case that you thought was unusual, he had already seen it.”

Dr. Kelly maintained a comprehensive clinical practice in which he treated children and adults who suffered from swallowing disorders — a focus of his research. His induction into the Triologic Society in 1992 was based on his study on the neuromuscular aspects of swallowing.

“He also provided an interesting study on performers who were experts in sword swallowing,” said his wife of 32 years, Jane Hill, who is director of patient relations at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Dr. Kelly collaborated on a number of articles and books. He retired in 2011.

He was an inveterate fly fisherman and enjoyed playing tennis, cooking international cuisine and reading spy thriller and detective novels.

Plans for a memorial service are incomplete.

In addition to his wife, Dr. Kelly is survived by two sons, James H. Kelly Jr. of Boston and Alexander Kelly of Canton; a daughter, Erin Tilghman of Winter Haven, Fla.; two brothers, William David Kelly of Brooklet, Ga., and John L. Kelly of Charlotte, N.C.; a sister, Kelly Fields of Athens, Ga.; and three granddaughters.

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