Florence Maria Ullrich Kelley
Born: November 3, 1932
Death: February 17, 2016
Place of Birth: Chicago, Illinois
Location of Death: Honolulu, Hawai’i
Burial Location: Hawaiian Memorial Park Cemetery, Kaneohe, Hawai’i
Florence Maria Kelley, nee Ullrich, was born and raised mostly in Chicago, Illinois. Her father was an architect and determined amateur golfer and her mother was a member of a prominent Baha’i Family, The Ioas Family. Florence’s mother and her siblings met Abdul-Baha, the son of the Founder of the Baha’i Faith. Her uncle, LeRoy Ioas, was given the title of Hand of the Cause of God for his services to the Faith.
She graduated from Oak Park High School and went to DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, where she double-majored in bacteriology and psychology. Following College, Florence debated taking a fellowship in psychology. What she did instead was accept the challenge to pioneer—as going to places with no Baha’is or few Baha’is is called—to teach the Faith. She went to Monte Carlo, Monaco. Since she was so young—believed to be the youngest of these pioneers who are now called Knights of Baha’u’llah—she was sent with an older woman, Olivia Kelsey as a combination chaperone and guide. One of the requirements of pioneering is to work in the area to which one goes: Florence went to work for the Onassis Shipping Company as an English-language secretary—she took dictation from him once, and I recall that her opinion of Mr. Onassis was not favorable.
Then things changed for Miss Ullrich. Lawrence Kelley was a naval officer and his ship literally sailed into port. There was a party for Americans, and both Florence and Lieutenant Kelley [not certain of the rank] were there and met. Not long thereafter, Lieutenant Commander Kelley was posted to Rome in the Military Advisory and Assistance Group (MAAG). He courted Florence over the next year by taking the train up from Rome almost every weekend. (As a side note, the family visited Monte Carlo some fifteen plus years later and he was still remembered by some of the staff at the pension/hotel where he used to stay.) Probably helped by recordings of Renata Tebaldi in various operas—as Florence always did like singing, both to listen to and to do—Florence said yes.
With permission, she left her pioneering position in Monte Carlo and went to Rome to marry. In Baha’i terms, the wedding was interesting. More accurately, the weddings, plural, as the Baha’i ceremony was not valid in Italy at the time. In the first ceremony, the Baha’i one, her uncle LeRoy Ioas conducted the proceedings. In the second one, the Italian civil one, another person to be designated as a Hand of the Cause of God, Dr. Ugo Giachery, made the arrangements in the Campidoglio and translated the ceremony for the Kelleys. Their son, Kevin, was born over a year later.
Less than year after that, the Kelleys were transferred to Key West Florida, and relatively soon after that, to Long Beach, California. And thence to Pearl Harbor, where some of you first met my mother, Florence Kelley.
While in Hawaii, Mom was on the first, Local Spiritual Assembly of Ewa and the in 1966 elected to the National Spiritual Assembly (NSA) of Hawaiian Islands. As a member of the NSA, she went to elect the first Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel.
Also in Hawaii, her husband was skipper of two ships, the destroyer USS Walker and an oiler, the USS Chipola, which plied the waters off of Vietnam. As the skipper’s wife, she had duties with the other officer wives—support, advice, keeping up morale, and the like. She did those well, enjoyed the wifely comradery, and enjoyed the Navy social scene. When Dad retired from the Navy, she may have missed it more than he did.
From Hawaii, we went to northern Virginia, and from there to Seoul, Korea. In Korea, the Navy wife aspect was changed in tone to the more general American officer’s wife. In addition to the purely social circuit, Mom took part in charity events connected with the Seoul Area American Officer’s Wives Club. One contribution in particular from the group was machines to help make bricks after a devastating flood in northern South Korea. And she was on the Korean National Spiritual Assembly as their English Language Secretary.
Captain Kelley retired in Korea. The theory then went, throw the kid into boarding school and the parents would travel. It was a short lived theory. When they were visiting me for parent’s weekend at the Hawaii Preparatory Academy, Dad was offered a job to teach at Pacific Maritime Institute. And there was this new business coming along, an inter-island hydrofoil company named Seaflite. My parents moved back to Oahu, and left their son on the Big Island for a couple years. When Seaflite was folded, a new opportunity for Captain Kelley came along and he became involved with the start of cruise ships (vs ships to go from A to B, like the passenger part of the Matson and President’s Line business) in Hawaii—American Hawaii Cruises. There he was best known as the skipper of the SS Independence, although he skippered the SS Constitution as well.
In the new time in Hawaii, Florence got more involved in the Hawaii culture than she did before. Some hula classes, a language class, and religion class. But she became a volunteer docent at the ‘Iolani Palace—which involved more learning about Hawaiian history, culture, and some politics. After a number of years at the Palace, she became a docent at Washington Place, the last residence of Queen Liliuokalani and the official home of the governors.
Also with this new time in Hawaii, Florence branched out and took trips. There were, of course, trips to visit her mother and sister—and me on the way over or back. But she also got involved in various women’s groups, and made trips with or on behalf of them. The Pan-Pacific Southeast Asia Women’s Association (PPSEWA) was one group that Mom spent a lot of time working with. She also became one of its officers for I think two terms. Being a member of PPSEAWA let her travel to the South Pacific. But, the most trips Florence took were to various United Nation’s Non-Governmental Organizations (UN NGOs) women’s conferences on the status of women, and how to improve the conditions for women around the world. For these trips she represented the Baha’i International Community. She attended conferences in Nairobi, Kenya, and Brazil, as well as more regular ones in New York City, held at the UN headquarters except when they were being renovated. If possible, I would travel up from northern Virginia to see her in New York for a couple of days with those trips.
Mom loved singing. I remember her singing lullabies. She was in choruses in Hawaii and Virginia. Her first time in Hawaii, she was in the Honolulu Chorale, which held rehearsals at the old Armed Forces YMCA near the Capitol building, and the chorus for a musical that was trying to get enough steam to go to Broadway, “Thank Heaven for the Heathen”. In her second stint in Hawaii, she was a part of several groups, including those conducted by Tim Carney, as well as the Honolulu Symphony Chorus. And she was a member of the Hawaiian group for a music festival in Tallinn, Estonia, with tours in Russia and Eastern Europe.
Scattered throughout these remarks have been reference to the Baha’i Faith. The Baha’i Faith was the most important thing in her life. She remembers listening with her sister from the head of the stairs after they were supposed to have been in bed to talks in their home. She gave tours at the beginning stages of the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois. She joined her family and others in long drives for teaching trips to the South and other areas of the country. She and her sister were in London for the First Baha’i World Congress. Later she was in New York City with her son and several other relatives for the Second Congress. And the desire to teach the Faith led her to Monte Carlo, where she got married and began a new way to teach the Faith. Even from Hawaii she made trips related to the Faith, although in later years the trips were for more conference and events than actual teaching. One of the trips she took was to Samoa for an event relating to the House of Worship there. Another trip took her to Turkey for a conference, which concluded with a motor tour in England with her husband and son.
Related to Mom’s Baha’i work was work in several interfaith groups in Hawaii. She was both one of the regular attendees—always important—and sometimes helped organize presentations and events.
But her family was also important to her. One of the things she was most pleased about in her child rearing—other than I didn’t turn out to be a criminal—is that she was always home when I came home. And there was never any question that wherever Dad’s naval career took him, there she (and her I) would be as well.
Volunteer work took up a fair amount of Florence’s time and energy over the years. Outdoor Circle, the United Nations Association of the United States, American Association of University Women, PPSEAWA, are some of the groups in Hawaii.
There were two major regrets in Florence’s life. This first is that her son did not marry and have children. The second is that she never got to set up her “women’s center”—always a dream, but never attained. There, she figured, women could have a safe place to sit and talk story and read and maybe have classes and something for the children.
Florence’s eldest nephew had an interesting view of her life. Drawing on the Baha’i analogy of the complementarity and equality of men and women being like the wings of a bird, he compared Florence and Larry’s marriage to that bird. They always worked together for a good marriage. He provided all that she needed to be able to do volunteer and Baha’i work. She, in return, provided a loving home environment from which he could head out to slay the various sea dragons.
Some of the things that I have heard this past month about Mom were really no surprise. I had been told them before, and seen some of them myself. Her energy and her smile were probably the most common comments about her. Independence, especially in the last nine years after Dad died, and intelligence, and warmth were also remarked on.
On August 21, 2015, our email correspondence began with Mrs. Kelley. We asked to get her fresh input on the story of Olivia Kelsey she had written years ago. She immediately re-edited as she noticed minor errors in the previous publications on other sites, so we corrected them. She shared many ‘aside’ stories with us and was told to not include but will remain in our hearts as treasures. We asked for her story and sweetly she responded, “my story is varied, i haven’t written anything either; am not sure a few questions will cover my years. you can send them, but i won’t promise success”. She then said she would write her story for us. Well that didn’t happen and we are so ever thankful to be have been in Hawai’i for her funeral and to hear first hand these words from her beloved son Kevin. Her memorial/funeral was an afternoon of happy stories, lovely luau tribute and wonderful storyboard display of her life.
Baha’i World Centre Archives
(c) Baha’i Chronicles
Kevin Kelley wrote this eulogy February 23, 2016