Richard Forrest “Coach” Kelly, Sr. was born on September 17, 1937 in Ocala. In the late 1940s the family moved to Inverness, and Richard attended Citrus High School. His leadership skills became evident early, as he was president of the FFA chapter and vice president of his sophomore, junior and senior classes. He also served as State FFA Secretary. Richard graduated in 1955 and enrolled in the University of Florida with one goal in mind – to major in agriculture and become an agriculture teacher. Along the way he served as President of the Collegiate FFA Chapter, President of the Ag Council, and Pledge Master of Alpha Gamma Rho. He earned his degree in 1960 and soon began teaching agriculture at Santa Fe High School in Alachua County.
After a year at Santa Fe Richard returned to his home high school and became the agriculture teacher at Inverness. Richard became a highly successful teacher and FFA advisor, with many of his students winning state awards and serving as state officers. Even with the busy life of an agriculture teacher, Richard somehow found the time to earn his master’s degree from UF in 1963. Then in 1965 Richard was asked to serve as the Executive Secretary of the Florida FFA Association, a position he had been well prepared for as a result of his very successful teaching career. As Executive Secretary, Richard was responsible for coordinating state-level contests, awards, fundraising, the annual state convention, and the Florida Future Farmer magazine.
His outstanding performance as Florida FFA Executive Secretary caught the eye of Commissioner of Agriculture Doyle Conner, himself a big FFA supporter, and Richard became the Commissioner’s Executive Assistant in 1969. For over 20 years in the Commissioner’s Office Richard dealt with the most pressing agricultural issues of the day and coordinated numerous special projects. One of his most significant achievements as the Commissioner’s assistant was teaming with other agricultural leaders to create the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame. Richard retired in 1991 but continued to actively serve Florida agriculture and agricultural education. He became Regional Vice President for Alpha Gamma Rho and was instrumental in helping the UF Department of Agricultural Education and Communication raise more than $140,000 for endowed undergraduate scholarships. In fact, the Department continues to use the scholarship fundraising approach created by Richard.
Despite his disinterest in being recognized for his many contributions, Richard was honored with a number of awards. He earned the Honorary American Farmer degree from the National FFA in 1979, and in 1997 he was honored as the CALS Alumnus of Distinction. In 2004 Richard’s scholarship fundraising prowess was recognized with the Builder Society Award presented by the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication at UF and earlier this year was inducted into the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame. While he appreciated all these honors, Richard’s true reward was his family. He met Nell Thomas when they were in high school. They date at the University of Florida and were married in 1960, two days before his graduation. Richard and Nell have been blessed with three children, Lizette, Rick Junior, and Bryce, three grandchildren, and one great granddaughter. Richard lost his battle with cancer and passed away in January of this year. Coach Kelly’s lifetime of achievement and selfless service has earned him a place in the Florida FFA Hall of Fame.
Richard "Coach" Kelly was inducted into the Florida FFA Hall of Fame October 3, 2009.