Whitmer, Nessel and other leaders release statements on the passing of Frank Kelley

Kelley had spent the last years of his life living in Haslett and wintering in Naples, FL.
Former Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelley has passed away.
Former Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelley has passed away.(WILX)
Published: Mar. 6, 2021 at 1:39 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Frank Kelley, a former Michigan Attorney General who served the state for close to four decades, passed away on Friday according to a family spokesperson.

His 37-year term of office, from 1961 to 1999, made him both the youngest (36 years old) and oldest (74 years old) Attorney General in the state’s history. Kelley served five Michigan governors of both political parties.

During his time in office, Kelley, a Democrat, shifted the focus of the Attorney General’s Office to fight on behalf of the public interest, primarily when it came to environmental issues and the protection of consumers. He also fought for equality both within his office and across the state.

State leaders including Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Chair of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission Stacie Clayton, and Director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights James E. White expressed their sorrow in Kelley’s passing.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has ordered that flags be lowered to half-staff from March 6-20 in honor of Kelley.

“Frank J. Kelley was one of my absolute favorite people from whom to get advice, perspective, or humor,” said 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.”

Michigan’s current Attorney General Dana Nessel released the following statement on 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.”

Clayton spoke of Kelley’s push for racial equality within law offices.

“Some of his legal crusades are legendary and are still remarked upon decades later,” Clayton said. “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.”

Director White reflected on a case Kelley prosecuted and lost, but gained respect in Detroit.

“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,” White said. “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.”

Although Tom Miller of Iowa surpassed his record in 2019 as the longest-serving state attorney general in the history of the United States, Kelley still holds the record for longest continuous tenure as an attorney general.

Kelley had spent the last years of his life living in Haslett and wintering in Naples, FL.

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