John W. Kelly Jr ’77

The Clemson Alumni Association presented John W. Kelly Jr. of Boca Raton, Florida, with the 2017 Distinguished Service Award, the association’s highest honor for a Clemson graduate.

“John Kelly sets an extraordinary example of what a Clemson graduate can accomplish,” said Clemson University President James P. Clements. “He is a leader in his career, he is a dedicated public servant who gives back tirelessly to his community, and he is a loyal and devoted Clemson supporter. We are exceedingly proud to call him part of the Clemson family.”

Kelly began his career in 1982 as an assistant professor at Texas A&M University. Three years later he returned to Clemson, rising from professor to chair of the horticulture department as well as director of the Clemson Botanical Garden. He helped the garden become the official South Carolina Botanical Garden and developed its Wren House and geology museum. In 1997, he was named vice president for Public Service and Agriculture (PSA) and, in 2010, became Clemson’s vice president for economic development.

During his 28 years at Clemson, Kelly led initiatives to create, build and fund some of Clemson and PSA’s most extensive projects. He spearheaded and then directed the Clemson University Restoration Institute (CURI). He then led a team to secure the largest competitive renewable energy grant in U.S. Department of Energy history at the time, which along with public and private grants, built the SCE&G Energy Innovation Center at CURI. During his tenure, he helped obtain several of the largest gifts in Clemson’s history.

Kelly served on Clemson’s board of trustees’ university land and capital assets stewardship committee; the president’s administrative council, cabinet and implementation teams; and assisted in outlining Clemson’s clean energy strategy. He was one of three mission vice presidents and helped lead the development of two 10-year strategic plans for Clemson. Kelly secured funding for several endowed chairs and helped form academic partnerships between Clemson and other state schools. A longtime member of IPTAY and the Clemson Alumni Association, Kelly has also hosted many alumni events.

In 2014, Kelly became the seventh president of Florida Atlantic University, which he has led up the rankings to become the top-performing university in the state according to state accountability rankings. Nationally, he served on the boards of the Administrative Heads Section of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the American Distance Education Consortium.

The prestigious Clemson Alumni Distinguished Service Award is based on three main criteria:  personal and professional accomplishments; dedication and service to Clemson University; and devotion to community and public service. Members of the Clemson family nominate potential winners, who are then selected by the Clemson Alumni Association as outstanding alumni, public servants and examples to others.

“Dr. Kelly’s contributions to Clemson University and to the people of South Carolina will be of long-lasting value to our farmers, our citizenry, and to the state’s economy,” wrote George Askew, dean of Clemson’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences and vice president for Public Service and Agriculture.

Kelly lives in Boca Raton with his wife, Carolyn Boltin Kelly (CU ‘99), and their children Carly and Stella. His children, Christopher and Kimberly, are both Clemson graduates.