Skip to content ↓

Devoted alum I. Austin Kelly dies at 100

I. Austin Kelly
I. Austin Kelly

Ironton Austin Kelly III showed his gratitude and affection for his alma mater, MIT, in many ways: donating precious books and valuable paintings, establishing a fund that benefits faculty and students in humanities and social sciences, and presenting a dinghy named after his granddaughter to the sailing pavillion.

Kelly (S.B. 1926), died in his sleep on Sept. 8 in a nursing home in Salisbury, Conn. He was 100 years old. He was the longtime manager of the pension consulting firm he founded, the National Employee Relations Institute in New York. The Kellys had homes in Sharon, Conn., and Stuart, Fla.

Kelly was a longtime member of the MIT Corporation and close friend of five MIT presidents: Paul E. Gray, Jerome E. Weisner, Howard W. Johnson, Julius A. Stratton and James R. Killian.

The I. Austin Kelly Essay Prize and the I. Austin Kelly III Fund were established in 1975. Kelly said repeatedly that the hundreds who benefited from his fund, many of whom expressed their gratitude in writing, provided him with one of his greatest joys. It was renamed the Kelly-Douglas Fund when its first manager and inspirational leader, Professor Richard Douglas, retired in 1991.

The fund makes grants to about 60 students and faculty each year to support their research or teaching. At least two Kelly Essay Prizes are given to undergraduates in a competition held every spring for more than 40 years. Since 2000, 10 traveling fellowships also have been awarded annually to juniors who have projects related to the humanities or social sciences.

Kelly, who once said his love of books led him to progress from "bibliophile to bibliomaniac," donated dozens of rare books to the MIT Libraries, including an original copy of Thomas Paine's revolutionary pamphlet "Common Sense" and a first edition in perfect condition of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass." He was appointed curator of rare books at MIT in 1972.

After graduating from MIT with a degree in general science and engineering, he attended Harvard University and Trinity College, Oxford.

A member of the Corporation Development Committee from 1967-92, Kelly received the Bronze Beaver from the Alumni Association in 1974. He was named a Sustaining Fellow and Founding Life Member in 1979 and served on the Council for the Arts from 1974-86.

Kelly, an avid sailor, named a dinghy after his granddaughter, Cricket, who has sailed for free at MIT ever since.

Kelly is survived by his wife of 36 years, Alethia; three daughters, Ellen Schultenopf of Cumberland Foreside, Maine, Rosemary Corwin of Yorktown Heights, N.Y., and Catherine Kelly of Golden's Bridge, N.Y.; eight grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at Christ Church Episcopal at 9 South Main St. in Sharon, Conn., on Sunday, Oct. 19 at 2:30 p.m. A reception will follow. The family requests that memorial tributes be addressed to the church and that no flowers be sent.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 8, 2003.

Related Topics

More MIT News