Dr. Rita Mae Kelly, UTD’s Andrew R. Cecil Distinguished Chair In Applied Ethics and Former Dean
An International Scholar and Leader in the Area of Women’s Rights
Dr. Rita Mae Kelly, an internationally renowned scholar, leader in the area of women’s rights and holder of the Andrew R. Cecil Distinguished Chair in Applied Ethics at The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD), died Sunday, Oct. 14, at her home in Richardson after a lengthy illness. She was 61.
Dr. Kelly was founding director of the Center for Empowerment and Global-Local Equity at UTD and from the 1996-97 academic year through 2000-01 served as dean of the university’s School of Social Sciences.
Professor Kelly was the author or co-author of more than 13 books, including Gender Power, Leadership and Governance. She also authored numerous articles that appeared in scholarly journals and received many honors for her work. Most recently, she was awarded an honorary doctorate in political science from the University of Umea in Sweden for her “pioneering contributions to the field of women and politics … (and her) ability to combine theory and empirical work …”
UTD President Dr. Franklyn G. Jeniffer called Dr. Kelly “a remarkable woman, an outstanding scholar, a good friend and an inspiration to her students” and said her death was “a tremendous loss for the entire university.”
UTD Provost Dr. Hobson Wildenthal said, “Dr. Kelly was an inspirational model of courage and commitment for all of her countless friends and admirers at UTD and around the world. The loss of her leadership and optimistic passion will be deeply felt.”
Dr. Kelly, who was a tenured full professor at U.T. Dallas, was born Dec. 10, 1939. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Russian and history from the University of Minnesota and a master’s degree in political science and a Ph.D. in political science, both from Indiana University.
She began her career at American University as a research scientist for the American Institutes for Research, Inc. She subsequently joined Rutgers University, where she became a tenured professor and chairperson of the Department of Urban Studies and Community Development as well as the director of the Rutgers University Camden Forum for Policy Research and Public Service.
Dr. Kelly then moved from New Jersey to Arizona, where she served as a tenured professor of justice studies, political science, public affairs and women’s studies at Arizona State University (ASU). While there, she also was chairperson and director of the ASU School of Justice Studies.
Among the honors Dr. Kelly received were the 1995 Merriam Mills Award from the Policy Studies Organization; the 1993 Aaron Wildavsky Award from the Policy Studies Organization (for the best book on public policy); the 1991 Distinguished Research Award for research about women, given by the American Society for Public Administration (Section on Women in Public Administration); and a Fulbright Fellowship Award to Brazil in 1991.
Dr. Kelly, a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Pi Alpha Alpha, also was recognized for outstanding achievement as a faculty member at both Rutgers University in 1979 and Arizona State University in 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1989. In 1988, she was named Honorary Board Member of the Arizona Women’s Initiative in recognition of the role her research about women and the Arizona political process played in the initiative’s establishment.
In addition to the academic posts she held, Dr. Kelly served as president or chairperson of such organizations as the Western Political Science Association, the Policy Studies Organization, the National Women’s Political Caucus, the New Jersey Political Science Association and the National Task Force on Productivity in the Public Sector, among others.
Dr. Kelly represented the International Political Science Association at both the NGO Forum on Women and the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995. She was a founding board member of the Arizona Foundation for Women and the Arizona Leadership 2000 Alumni Association, co-director of the Arizona Leadership 2000 & Beyond Program and co-chairperson of Arizonans for a Healthy Future from 1993 to 1995 and the Arizona Get Out the Women’s Vote in 1996.
Dr. Kelly is survived by her husband Vincent, daughter Kathleen, son Patrick and daughter-in-law Lidia, mother Agnes Cawley, brother Bob Cawley and his wife Jan, brother Jerry Cawley and his wife Sandy, sister Mary Goodrich and her husband Chet and sister Marge Best and her husband Tom.
Visitation will be at the Sparkman Funeral Home, 1029 S. Greenville Avenue, Richardson, from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 17, and Thursday, Oct. 18. A funeral mass will be held at St. Paul The Apostle Church, 720 S. Floyd Road, Richardson, at 10 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 19.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to the Rita Mae Kelly Scholarship Fund in care of the UTD Advancement Office.