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Alfred Orr Kelly ’48, 97, a newspaper, magazine reporter, and author of 13 books, died on March 17, 2021, of old age.
Kelly, who went by his middle name, Orr, was a reporter for the San Luis Obispo Telegram-Tribune, Pismo Times, Salinas Californian, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Star, and U.S. News & World Report. With his wife, Mary (predeceased), he established the weekly Berkeley-based Berkeley Review newspaper.
During the war, Kelly trained as a navigator for B-17 and B-29 bombers. It was the beginning of a lifelong fascination with the American military and the soldiers who serve in it.
Following World War II, Kelly returned to Santa Clara University, where he edited The Owl, the university’s literary magazine, and was president of the Young Writer’s Club. After earning a master’s degree at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, Kelly joined the San Francisco Chronicle in 1949 as a copy boy.
By 1959, Kelly had become assistant city editor for the Chronicle after covering the police beat and working as a general assignment reporter. He covered stories as varied as labor strikes on the San Francisco docks, forest fires, the 1953 Bakersfield earthquake, and jumpers off the Golden Gate bridge.
Kelly then moved to the Washington Star, eventually becoming an assistant city editor before going back to being a reporter. At the Star, Kelly covered the Vietnam War as a Pentagon correspondent and the Watergate scandal as a Justice Department reporter. He also covered the U.S. space program, including the Apollo 10 mission, which sent a crew to circle the moon, and the Apollo 11 mission in which men first landed on the moon.
In 1976 Kelly left daily journalism and moved to U.S. News & World Report. While at U.S. News, Kelly covered much of official Washington, including the Pentagon, the Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA, and the National Security Agency.
In 1986, Kelly took early retirement from U.S. News and immediately shifted to work as a book author, writing several books on the history and wonders of the American military. He published his last book, The Big Wink, a crime novel based in San Francisco in the 1950s, in February 2021 at the age of 97. He was working on a sequel at the time of his death.
As a reporter and writer, Kelly always tried to share the experiences of the people he was writing about. He flew in mock dogfights with the Air Force, streaked across the Nevada desert in a Navy FA-18 airplane at 200 feet and 600 miles an hour, and went swimming, and shooting, with the Navy SEALS.
On other occasions, he landed on (and was catapulted from) aircraft carriers, flew in gunships on wartime missions, and descended into the buried launch control room for an intercontinental ballistic missile. At 67, he successfully completed the U.S. Navy’s water survival course, including exiting an upside-down helicopter underwater while wearing blackout goggles.
In his off-duty hours, Kelly spent as much time as possible at the farm he and his wife bought in Washington County, Maryland, in 1972. Mary and Orr Kelly were married for almost 57 years. She died in 2006. He is survived by a son and a daughter.