Harry Kelly (politician)

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Harry Kelly
Harry F. Kelly.jpg
39th Governor of Michigan
In office
January 1, 1943 – January 1, 1947
Lieutenant Eugene C. Keyes
Vernon J. Brown
Preceded by Murray Van Wagoner
Succeeded by Kim Sigler
34th Secretary of State of Michigan
In office
Preceded by Leon D. Case
Succeeded by Herman H. Dignan
Personal details
Born Harry Francis Kelly
April 19, 1895
Ottawa, Illinois
Died February 8, 1971 (aged 75)
West Palm Beach, Florida
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Anne Veronica O'Brien
Religion Roman Catholic

Harry Francis Kelly (April 19, 1895 – February 8, 1971) was an American politician. He served as the 39th Governor of Michigan from 1943 to 1947.

Early life[edit]

Kelly was born in Ottawa, Illinois,[1] the son of Mary Agnes (Morrissey) and Henry Michael Kelly, a lawyer.[2] He was from an Irish Catholic family.[3] Kelly spent a year assisting his father in his law office[1] before enrolling at the University of Notre Dame, where he received a law degree from Notre Dame Law School in 1917.[1] He served in the U.S. Army during World War I, was wounded and lost his right leg in the Battle of Chateau-Thierry, where he also earned the Croix de guerre with palm leaves.[1] Upon his return to the United States, Kelly joined the American Liberty bond drive.[4]

After the war, Kelly established a career in public service. He served as the state's attorney for LaSalle County, Illinois from 1920 to 1924.[5] During that time, his father moved to Detroit to represent General Motors in Michigan.[2] Harry followed when his term as state's attorney ended, joining his father and younger brother Emmett to form the law firm of Kelly, Kelly, and Kelly.[1]

In 1929, Kelly married Anne Veronica O'Brien, and they had six children together.[4] The following year, he became the assistant prosecuting attorney for Wayne County, Michigan, where he served until 1934.[5][6]


Kelly was selected by Governor Frank Fitzgerald to head the Detroit area Liquor Control Commission.[1] Fitzgerald later asked him to run for Michigan Secretary of State, and Kelly was elected, serving from 1939–43.[5] When Fitzgerald died suddenly and Lieutenant Governor Luren Dickinson took the Governorship, Dickenson turned to Kelly for assistance, and for approximately two years Harry acted as chief counsel and confidante to Governor Dickinson.[4]

In 1942, the Republican party turned to Kelly as a candidate for governor, and on November 3, 1942, he defeated Democratic Governor Murray Van Wagoner in the general election to become Governor of Michigan. In 1944, while governor, he served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention which nominated Thomas E. Dewey for U.S. President.[7] He was elected to a second two-year term in 1944,[4] and during his four years in office, the state government was reorganized and a grand jury was convened to examine misappropriations in the legislature. Also during his tenure as governor, Kelly appointed Vera Burridge Baits and Roscoe Bonisteel as Regents to the University of Michigan. The War Governor, as he was nicknamed,[1] declined to run for re-election in 1946.[4]

After serving out his second term, Kelly returned to private practice[4] until, in 1950, the Republican party again asked him to run for governor again. He lost a close race to Governor G. Mennen Williams, by only 1,154 votes.[8] Kelly was declared the winner in the initial vote count, but Williams requested a recount that found several counting errors and reversed the outcome.

In 1954, he was nominated by the Republican party to a seat on the Michigan Supreme Court. He was elected, and served from 1954–71.[5]

Father of actor Brian Kelly[edit]

His son Brian Kelly was an American actor best known for his role as the father on the television series Flipper. Earlier, Brian Kelly costarred with John Ashley as the co-owner of the "Straightaway Garage" on ABC's Straightaway, which focuses on auto racing.[9]

Retirement and death[edit]

Kelly died at the age of seventy-five while in West Palm Beach, Florida. He is interred at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery of Southfield, Michigan.[10]


Political offices
Preceded by
Leon D. Case
Michigan Secretary of State
Succeeded by
Herman H. Dignan
Preceded by
Murray Van Wagoner
Governor of Michigan
Succeeded by
Kim Sigler