Francis X. Kelly Jr. is such a familiar and omnipresent figure in the Baltimore region that you might assume there are at least three of him. One to build a hugely successful insurance company. Another to become a respected Baltimore state senator. A third to devote himself to his faith and to the community.
Yet friends and colleagues insist that there is just one: the happy warrior whose greatest success may be in raising a family — including quite a few highly successful lacrosse players. He and his wife, Janet, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2011, and they have four sons and 22 grandchildren.
Mr. Kelly’s inclusion in the inaugural class of The Baltimore Sun’s Business and Civic Hall of Fame might have been granted on his business success alone. The Villanova University graduate started Kelly & Associates in the basement of his home in Timonium in 1976. It now employs 450 at its Hunt Valley headquarters and regional offices, making it one of the region’s top health insurance brokers and administrators, with thousands of corporate clients.
But many also know him as the Democratic state senator first elected to the Maryland General Assembly in 1979 whose conservative views and deep Roman Catholic faith didn’t always align with his party’s leadership priorities. Yet he must have done something right because elected officials, Democrats and Republicans alike, have been calling on him ever since he left office to help advise public institutions on the state and local level.
That has most notably included his work with the University of Maryland Medical System and particularly the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center. Not only did he help the system make the transition from state government to private, not-for-profit status, but he helped it grow from a single financially challenged hospital to a $3.5 billion network of 12 hospitals. Most recently, that included the acquisition of St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson at a time when the facility was facing a huge debt. Today, it’s back in the black, and many there credit the indefatigable Mr. Kelly, who now serves as chairman of the hospital’s board.
As a fundraiser and philanthropist, Mr. Kelly’s legacy has spread far and wide. He has helped the Community College of Baltimore County, Morgan State University, the Children’s Guild, the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and Calvert Hall College High School. He has been honored by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, the Catholic Business Network of Baltimore, the Baltimore Health Underwriters Association, the Maryland Motor Truck Association, the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce, the American Trauma Society, and on and on.
Six years ago when Mr. Kelly, as a member of the Board of Regents, was interviewing candidates to serve as the University of Maryland, College Park’s next president, he recalled falling for Iowa’s Wallace Loh (who was ultimately hired) because of his can-do outlook, but he may have simply found a kindred spirit. “I want someone who looks at problems and sees opportunities to solve them,” Mr. Kelly told a reporter. Surely, the same can be said for the 76-year-old chairman of Kelly & Associates.