Tributes to Frank Kelley, Michigan’s “Eternal General”

Michigan

Frank Kelley photo courtesy: Michigan State University College of Law

LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — Frank Kelley, the long-time Michigan Attorney General, died on Friday, March 5 at the age of 96.

Kelley had the nickname “The Eternal General” because he served as the AG for 37 years. He was first appointed to the position in 1961 by Governor John Swainson, and served until 1999.  

Kelley’s death has prompted many tributes from people he interacted with over the year and from people who admired him.

Here are some of the top ones:

Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered U.S. and Michigan flags in the State Capitol Complex and all public buildings and grounds across the state of Michigan to be lowered to half-staff.

“Frank J. Kelley was one of my absolute favorite people from whom to get advice, perspective, or humor,” said Governor Whitmer. “He was a never-ending fount of wisdom and fun. From his college days to the battles he fought as Michigan’s longest serving attorney general, he always had stories and insight into the human condition and generosity of time.

“I know I am among countless, fortunate people who had the honor of working with the brilliant and irascible Frank J. Kelley. He will be missed but his mark on Michigan will be felt – as generations were benefited by his leadership.  His endorsement of and counsel to candidates like me meant as much to us as it did to the public we hoped to serve. I’ll forever be grateful to my friend, Mr. Kelley.” 

Current Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel released the following statement about Kelley’s passing:

“It is with a heavy heart that I join you in mourning the passing of former Attorney General Frank Kelley.  Mr. Kelley was an extraordinary man, the quintessential public servant, and a legend in his own time.

“Having served as Michigan’s attorney general for 37 years, he was, on his retirement in 1999, the longest serving state attorney general in the country, earning the nickname of the “Eternal General.”  During those many years of service, he was a beacon to the State, a mentor to many, and a valued advisor to notable public officials. And his energy and genuine passion for public service inspired countless others to likewise dedicate their talents in service to the People of Michigan. 

“Mr. Kelley’s accomplishments are legion:  He was the first attorney general in the country to establish Consumer Protection, Criminal Fraud, and Environmental Protection divisions; his influence led to the passage of the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act;  he was a leading figure in the tobacco settlement that benefitted Michigan and many other states; and he served as the president of the National Association of Attorneys General, a group that honored him by naming its most prestigious award—the Kelley-Wyman Award for outstanding service and national contributions—after him. 

“As extraordinary as his accomplishments were, many will best remember Mr. Kelley for his humor, friendship, and humanity.  He will be sorely missed.”

Stacie Clayton, Chair of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission:

“Today we join with many others who are mourning the passing of Frank Kelley, the People’s Attorney General. Some of his legal crusades are legendary and are still remarked upon decades later.

“Unknown to many is how Kelley pursued equality in his own office and gave Black and female lawyers opportunities they never had before. Kelley sought out strong women, like Maxine Boord Virtue, who became the first head of the new Consumer Protection Division he founded.

“We remember these acts and others as important parts of Frank Kelley’s legacy of service to the people of Michigan.”

James E. White, Director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights:

“Frank Kelley is recognized as a champion of consumer protection and environmental protection. But he also took on civil rights issues, putting an end to racially restrictive real estate practices.

“At a time when justice for African Americans who were victims of crime was hard to find, Frank Kelley prosecuted a controversial case involving a white gang and the senseless killing of Grady Little, an African American man.

“Though he ultimately lost the case, he won the respect of many, including Detroit’s Black community, by demonstrating he was the Attorney General for all people, regardless of race.

“At a time when unbiased enforcement of the law meant he would likely make powerful enemies, Attorney General Kelley did the right thing anyway. We mourn the passing of the ‘eternal general,’ a giant in Michigan political history.”

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