Thursday, July 2, 2020

Thomas P. Kelly, Jr. (1936-2020).

My dad recently passed away. Below is an obituary I wrote for him for the Sonoma County Bar Association Journal, appearing in the Summer 2020 volume.  


Thomas P. Kelly, Jr. passed away February 24, 2020. A native Texan, he worked his way through the University of Texas as a brakeman on the Southern Pacific Railroad, earning business and law degrees, and developing a lifelong love of Longhorn football. He served in the Air Force as a JAG in Vietnam, and then worked in San Francisco as a railroad lawyer. Ambitiously, in the late 1960’s, he moved to Santa Rosa with his fiancĂ© Joyce knowing no-one. He joined Anderson & McDonald (now the Abbey firm), where he would be a partner for thirty years, before running his own practice for twenty more.

There were many ways people came to know Tom. He was a lector at St. Eugene’s Cathedral, and a Contracts and Corporations professor at the Empire Law School, where he was one of the founding faculty. Tom was a devoted counselor for the Eritrean community, many of whom considered him one of their own. A strong advocate for Sonoma County business, he particularly championed the construction industry. Charity was always a part of his life, especially on behalf of parochial schools and the Law Enforcement Chaplaincy.

The Kelly Family, ~1980. Tom & Joyce, with, L-R, Tom III, Heather, and John.
Tom and his wife Joyce were a study in contrasts. He was the dark haired Catholic Republican Texan, she the blonde Protestant Democratic Englishwoman. Perhaps such a pairing could only have occurred in San Francisco in the 60’s, where they had worked together and fallen in love. Their marriage, at his passing three months shy of their 50th anniversary, produced three children, Heather, Tom III and John, all of whom followed him into the profession.

For Tom, law practice was like basketball. He had honed that skill as a short, thin, awkward teenager in San Antonio. He shot 10,000 free throws then, developing an outstanding jumper, and earning a spot on his high school team. Decades later, arriving home to his kids playing hoops, he would call for the ball, and shoot from an impossible distance. Invariably, he hit. Was it skill? Was it luck? Was it both? Did it matter?

His day was generally conducted like clockwork. Even on the weekends, he could be found at his desk at the office at 9 A.M., answering his telephone with a curt “law office,” without any other salutation. His memory was fantastic (at one time he was jokingly referred to as the master of the obscure statute), but his organizational skills were slightly less so. Possessed of a hearty laugh, intelligence was the coin of his realm, and education his marker of achievement. A bit long winded, his conversations always seemed to turn to railroads, where his face would light up like a child delighted with a train set on Christmas.

Tom (UT-Law) with daughter Heather (U-Chicago Law), ~1992.

Tom was tough to your face, and praised you behind your back. Imperious in the courtroom, he was humble with clients. A reservist for thirty years, retiring as a Colonel, his Air Force support staff were continually bemused by the contrast. In jest, they got him the license plate “HMBLTOM.” He placed it on his Porsche with pride. Sometimes called a “grumpy Matlock” (despite being a civil not criminal practitioner), the gruff exterior concealed a deeply religious respect for the value of every human life. A military officer and student of the history of warfare, the core of his spiritual values was still betrayed by his longtime computer password, “peacenow.”
His weakness was Rocky Road ice cream, and while no gourmet, he could cook fantastic San Antonio- style enchiladas and pretty good Chicken and Walnuts. He loved his wife’s Joyce’s garden, although lamenting his own brown thumbs. An outdoorsman when young (missed Eagle Scout by a whisker), he nevertheless refused to ski, claiming to have broken his leg on the bunny slope at Squaw. Stern in confrontation over values in court, he melted in the presence of children, almost always accurately guessing their age (with an extra year for good measure). He would strike up conversations with them, never talking down. Instead, he always made them feel “big.” He had been the littlest one himself once, of course.

Tom & Grandkids, L-R Clara, Miles, Allegra, Siena & Ruby, 2019.
But it was law practice to which he gave his first, best, and ultimately final measure of devotion. For him, practicing law was fun. It was the best single thing you could do. He couldn’t see why anyone would do anything else. Growing up with him, cross-examination could come at any time, and his “ah-ha!” at his kids’ admissions against interest revealed the twinkle in the eye of a man in his element. Perhaps the greatest tribute to him is the large number of his students at the Empire College of Law who spoke of his dynamism as a professor. So many went on to fulfill the values he held dear, and he remembered nearly all of them. Although he perhaps had not always let them know how impressed he had been with their work, he made sure his family knew. The continuing impact of those students is the best tribute he probably could have imagined to the spirit of the profession he was so delighted himself to have practiced.

 Thomas P. Kelly, Jr. was 83 years old.


 John Kelly (Berkeley Law ‘02) is a member of the SCBA Board, and chair of its Business and IP Law section. He is President of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees and a partner in Kelly, Carlstrom & Associates in Santa Rosa.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Life Pressed Out.

George Floyd was murdered May 25th, aged 46. Suffocated by a Minneapolis police officer over the course of 8 minutes and 46 seconds, his death has rightfully become a rallying moment for Black Lives Matter. Many (but not all) are astonished that three police officers stood watch as he was asphyxiated. Protests against police brutality and police killings of black people, and broader issues such as racial profiling, and racial inequality in the United States criminal justice system, continue with cause. 

"The Life Pressed Out"
Obituary, George Floyd
The Economist, June 4, 2020
In this kaleidoscope of horror, though, one fact in particular stunned and shocked me. For George Floyd knew Derek Chauvin, the police officer that killed him. They were coworkers.  Both were employed by the El Nuevo Rodeo club, a Latinx music venue in Minneapolis. George was known in the workplace for his calm manner, big smile, and physical presence. Chauvin, who had done the job for 17 years, was described by Ann Wroe of the Economist as "an off-duty white police officer with jittery eyes, who would reach for his pepper spray as soon as a fight broke out and fire it over everyone."  More than mere corruption, worse than the principal-agent problem, did Chauvin strike to settle a grudge, believing in protection from the Thin Blue Line

The use of government authority and power for personal ends is the genesis of so much that is disquieting about the past two decades of American public life. But the events of May 25th must not recur.  An officer sworn to protect the public "dragged [George] aside, threw him to the ground helpless and then, for almost nine minutes, knelt on his neck, pressing, pressing as [George] cried out for his mother and his breath and his life. [George] possibly never knew that this was the same white guy with jittery eyes who had worked El Nuevo Rodeo, the one so ready with the pepper spray to keep the blacks in line." 

But we know. And we can act. But it requires the efforts of all. As former President Obama noted, "the elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels[.] Review your use of force policies with members of your community and commit to report on planned reforms[.] Change America and make it live up to its highest ideals."

One of the 13 guiding principles of the Black Lives Matter movement is a commitment to restorative justice, a vehicle for decarceration in the United States. In criminal cases, victims can testify about the crime's impact upon their lives, receive answers to questions about the incident, and participate in holding the offender accountable. Meanwhile, offenders can tell their story of why the crime occurred and how it has affected their lives. It's not a panacea, and real limitations exist in the context of domestic violence and racism. But it many cases, the conflict in the community calms.  
Sonoma Valley Equity & Inclusion Task Force, 2016
Report available at
As Sonoma Valley Unified's Equity & Inclusion Task Force pointed out in 2018, "recent best practice for discipline in schools has included a movement toward incorporating restorative justice practices. Restorative justice has been shown to be an effective alternative to punitive responses to wrongdoing. Inspired by indigenous traditions, it brings together persons harmed with persons responsible for harm in a safe and respectful space, promoting dialogue, accountability, and a stronger sense of community." The Task Force noted some past attempts by SVUSD to implement restorative justice practices.  "However none of these attempts resulted in across-the-board implementation of the practice. While there has been some training for staff, without full implementation of the practice that includes appropriate allocation of staff, policy development, and training, change has not occurred."

It's time for full implementation. Restorative justice practices, such as the one utilized by the Los Angeles School District, show significant decreases in suspensions. The LAUSD posted a 92 percent decrease in the number of days lost to suspensions as a result of its restorative justice program. As our Task Force noted, "[t]hese statistics are especially relevant to this [D]istrict that has a disproportionately high level of low [socio-economic status] students who are suspended and/or expelled.”

We have the power in our Valley to make this change, and democratic self-governance starts with each one of us participating in bringing about a better shared future.  The way has been shown and the report of the Task Force is ready for implementation. Let’s make it happen. After all, it’s the least we can do to honor George Floyd's life. 

Sunday, May 10, 2020

@AmExperiencePBS @RobertKenner-- the 1918 Pandemic.

The 1918 flu pandemic ("America's Forgotten Pandemic") has not so much passed out of our memory as it has instead been nearly consciously pushed from it. As the Economist has reported, for example, its own archives indicate that its editors "obeyed the wartime censors and avoided discussion of the disease in its leaders or editorials."  The pandemic was widely forgotten in public memory and ignored history books.
"Influenza 1918"

However, there was and is excellent scholarship on the issue. Perhaps the most brief and succinct entry into the subject is PBS' excellent 1998 episode of the American Experience.  While produced 22 years ago, nearly every element of current events is present in the 51-minute episode.  I caution parents, it is difficult for children.  The teacher's guide to the episode asks questions that in retrospect are heartbreaking -- "Looking back at the flu epidemic, what do students think should have been done to try to control the disease’s spread? Why do they think these actions were not taken?"

William Keepers Maxwell Jr.
image available at
Robert Kenner is the director of the episode, which utilizes a nice combination of historical film and survivor interviews to weave the story together.  Ken Chowder is the writer, and he particularly effectively employs the words of William Keepers Maxwell Jr. to illustrate and illuminate. Maxwell himself was a fiction editor at The New Yorker magazine for forty years (1936–1975), and the author six novels, including "They Came Like Swallows'' (1937) (his obit from the New York Times is here). Much of his work is about the effect of the pandemic in small-town Lincoln, Illinois, when he was ten. On the passing of his mother, Maxwell would say:

"It happened too suddenly, with no warning, and we none of us could believe it or bear it ... the beautiful, imaginative, protected world of my childhood swept away ... the effect of my mother's death was that I realized, for the first time and forever, that we were not safe, we were not beyond harm. My father did what he could, he kept us together as a family but, from that time on there was a sadness, which had not existed before, a deep down sadness that never quite went away because, I knew people aren't safe and nobody's safe —terrible things could happen — to anybody."
While the pandemic itself was poorly documented, the crisis played a role in changing many minds on the role of government.  Hearkening back to the Economist, the newspaper notes that the paper's editorial line on government intervention changed after the pandemic. Previously, the editors had opposed efforts at education and public sewers. That changed rather abruptly.  Instead, they began advocating for more involvement to improve public health. That included calls for “decent conditions of work, fair pay and good housing.” Perhaps most interestingly, the paper began to promote “education” as a method that should be used to prevent the spread of disease in the future. A lot for thought in this, about how much we once knew, and perhaps had forgotten.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

@TheEconomist on a hybrid #VirtualParliament.

"Back to Abnormal"
Bagehot, The Economist, April 25, 2020
available at
This past week the Economist's Bagehot columnist wrote about the implementation of what are Zoom meetings for the United Kingdom's House of Commons, and some of the practical consequences. Adrian Wooldridge writes the column at this time. It is named after Walter Bagehot, a former editor of the Economist and author of "The English Constitution" (one of the books I kept from undergrad). He's also known for his rule for central bankers in a panic from "Lombard Street ("lend freely and at a penalty rate"). Both have been very practical of late, given COVID-19.

I wonder how we will regard the hybrid approach described herein in a few years.  While change has come for everyone, not least the "Mother of Parliaments" (churches were closed in the UK this year for Easter for the first time since apparently 1218), the piece makes clear the essential work that elected officials must do to support newspapers in their efforts to scrutinize the government. In the UK it is essentially only MPs that possess the combination of three critical tools -- they may ask written questions that the relevant ministers are obliged to answer, they have detailed knowledge of their own local constituencies, and they have the ability to speak on behalf of the voters.

Perhaps the "hybrid" we should be watching is not online versus in person meetings of Parliament. Instead it may be that recognizing that government accountability in the United Kingdom increasingly depends upon cooperative joint scrutiny by MPs and the press. Perhaps it would be best to call this the era of the dual hybrid Parliament ...

Sunday, October 20, 2019

@TheEconomist on Alcohol and Health.

"A Sober Brawl," available at
Sources: “Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria
 decision analysis”, by D. Nutt et al., The Lancet;
 “How dependent is the alcohol industry on heavy
drinking in England?” by A. Bhattacharya et al.,
Addiction; Centre for Responsive Politics; NHS
A brief piece this week, on the Economist's "graphic detail" item.  "Vaping" has been in the news, with ancillary reporting relating to tobacco and smoking. The newspaper points out, however, that it is alcohol that causes far more harm, and further illustrates (troublingly) that industry profits are based on the dependency of problem drinkers.  Should all who drink at hazardous or harmful levels moderate, the price rises necessary to maintain profits would be significant.

True, firms engage in public messaging to the contrary. But it appears public health officials question their commitment.  The article points out that the National Institutes of Health recently stopped working with the industry as a consequence, as did the World Health Organization. Perhaps sensing the danger, lobbying spending by alcohol firms has been on the rise. It now exceeds that of the tobacco industry by 31%.

image available at
It's not the way we think about these things in the northern part of the San Francisco Bay Area, where so many wineries (and increasingly distilleries and breweries) find their homes. We think of the beauty of the orderly rows of vines. "Living on a vineyard" evokes a mental flash of magic and starlight, hopefully in some way both natural and sustainable. Further, such vistas are reminiscent of James Scott's legible forests -- suggesting, to borrow from David Brooks, that our desire for ordered rationality has found symmetry in our cultivation of the natural environment where we reside.

Yet the industry those rows of vines serve has its problems. To paraphrase Brooks, the highest form of wisdom is balancing the networks that shape our reality by perceiving, evaluating, and acting upon evidence.  Doing so means recognizing that the beauty of Napa and Sonoma, as ever, can come with an uncomfortable cost. Per the bard, roses have thorns, and silver fountains, mud, while clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun. Sobering thoughts indeed.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

@econbartleby and @billswindell at @TheEconomist and @NorthBayNews, respectively.

As I lamented the result from St James' Park this morning, I looked for an insightful article from The Economist. A nice part of focusing on one piece is the chance to learn about the writer. Knowing these journalists grow up and live in a certain context humanizes them. For example, I ran across a piece by Motoko Rich of the New York Times a few years ago, and was surprised to find she grew up in the small town literally next door in Sonoma County.

Philip Coggan
available at
So, today, it's the Bartleby columnist, Philip Coggan. He's a graduate of Sidney Sussex College, one of the constituent colleges at Cambridge University. His work at the Financial Times, authorship of several books, and awards won belies his skill, but details on his person are scarce. He has a feed at Medium, though, where his words on the loss of a pet say much. It recounts how he, his daughter, and his wife said goodbye, recalling Philip's loss of his own father as a child:
"We take small pleasures from our pets. The purr of a cat as it is stroked; the excitement of a dog as it chases a ball; the occasional bursts of madness as a cat attacks a piece of string or a dog chases its own tail. They create a rhythm to the day; the morning feed, the afternoon walk, the night-time arrival of cat on bed, eager for shared bodily warmth. And there is satisfaction from a relationship that is so uncomplicated; in return for food and affection, the dog or cat will stay around. There are no arguments; no sudden estrangements. These small joys help us through the long days and nights. My cat will no longer be the first to greet me when I open the front door. How can I not be sad that he’s gone?"
Julian Richer
available at
Perhaps fitting for a financial journalist with such a sense of the personal, the piece this week is his writing on the appropriately-surnamed Julian Richer.  Richer made his fortune in peddling high-end audio equipment in the UK, from stores cheekily named "Richer Sounds." Richer's parents had both worked for Marks & Spencer (for an American, think maybe Macy's), and he entered the business at fourteen.  Coggan draws attention to Richer for the unusual fact that Richer has planned to give away much of his wealth to his employees.

When asked why, Coggan writes that Richer claims inspiration from the nearly 40-year-old book "In Search of Excellence." Richer maintains (and Coggan appears to agree) that the case studies therein illustrate that top performing companies treat both customers and employees well. "Organizations that create a culture based on fairness, honesty, and respect reap the rewards ... [t]hey attract motivated staff who are there for the long haul."

Coggan does not concede that Richer's arguments are ones for general application. He notes that Richer Sounds' turnover is a mere $157 million. That about matches the four supermarkets in the little City of Sonoma. However, he points out that the UK's high street retailers and supermarkets (M&S, Asda) have sought Richer out for his insight, suggesting lessons for the business community as a whole.

The point Coggan doesn't quite tease out (and I give him the benefit of the doubt here, for the column is a brief one), is that Richer, while not running a family business, is definitely in the family business.  His folks were retailers.  His approach to employees mirrors many family businesses in my part of semi-rural California. Bill Swindell of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat made this point five years ago, with his article "All in the Family." Swindell's quote from Marcus Benedetti (Clover-Sonoma) sums it up, as the CEO of the longtime dairy said "I look at myself as a temporary steward of something I can pass on to my children."

Over the past months and years, increasingly, navel-gazing about the raison d'ĂȘtre of companies has been a recurrent theme in the business press. The Economist has been no different. Contemporary capitalism often feels simultaneously disconnected from place while focused on individual cults of personality, provoking something of a crisis. It has not always been thus. When so many large business organizations in the United States came into existence in the Gilded Age, the personalities involved were known to one another, and the ownership thereof was often family-based, if dysfunctional.  Discomfort with family-type structures may therefore be present for good reasons -- embarrassing, emotional strife was and is common, messy details are inevitable, and nothing saps a meritocracy like nepotism.

Business is replete with family fortunes won-and-lost, the proverbial "shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations." It is understandable then, that with family life often resembling nothing so much as a blooper reel, that businesses would have a long-deep discomfort with management principles that may very well be family-derived. What irony there is, then, in the unstated suggestion of Mr. Coggan's piece — that at the core of successful businesses, those impersonal machines of prosperity, is the resiliency, reciprocity, and, yes, care for one another upon which family depends?

Sunday, September 29, 2019

@TheEconomist (Ann Wroe?) on Dr. Robert McClelland and #JFK.

Wikipedia, "John F. Kennedy"

image available at
Like many, I take Sunday afternoon and evening as an opportunity to review The Economist in print. While I scan its articles Thursday morning Pacific Time as they go live in London, I'm looking at the leaders in the throes of a workday. My review of the more detailed discussions and analysis of the newspaper takes place later, as the sun sets, children go to bed, and quiet descends on Sunday. I try to pick out at least one article to save: I don't have a formula for it, but I usually know the piece when I see it.

This week it was the obituary, and I suspect it was written by Ann Wroe (The Economist eschews bylines). She took a first in History and a doctorate in medieval history (Oxford, 1975), then worked for the BBC before joining The Economist in 1976 to cover American politics. She eventually became the Books and Arts editor (1988-1992) and US editor (1992-2000). She has edited the Obituaries page, usually writing the obituaries herself, since October 2003. I personally started reading the Economist in 1991 or 1992, so I've been reading her work for nearly 30 years, although usually unaware of the fact when I'm doing so.

Ann Wroe
Obituaries Editor
The Economist
available at 
The obituary this week regards Dr. Robert McClelland, a remarkable surgeon from Dallas in his own right. For nearly 30 years starting in the 1970s, he self-published “Selected Readings in General Surgery,” a regular compendium of journal articles — accompanied by his critiques. As the article notes, at one point, nearly 60% of America's general surgery residents subscribed, as the journal was a collection of the most useful new articles regarding first-hand surgical experience. That alone makes Dr. McClelland noteworthy, but it was the events of one week more than a half century ago that brings his passing to the attention of an English magazine in the 21st century. For Dr. McClelland was called to operate in an emergency on both President John F. Kennedy, and Lee Harvey Oswald, in the space of nearly 48 hours in November 1963.

The maelstrom of theories regarding the Kennedy assassination has never held my interest, despite the fact that the man has always been a hero for me. That he died for his country, rather than how, has always loomed far larger in my psyche. As Mark Shields, the longtime PBS Newshour commentator notes, Americans form individual relationships with the presidents.  Kennedy has always been the figure that comes to mind for me when I consider the office; as a near-mythical figure, and as the only Irish-Catholic (like me) to occupy the Oval Office, that is perhaps natural.

"To save a life"
"Robert McClelland died on September 10th, 2019"
The Economist
available at
However, the obituary of Dr. McClelland noted that, unlike the other surgeons in the room operating on President Kennedy, he disagreed with the conclusion of the Warren Report. His significant experience in dealing with the consequences of gunshots, and his position at the head of the table, caused him to examine both of the wounds of the stricken President. While the wound to the neck appeared to come from the back, the injury to Kennedy's head, in the opinion of Dr. McClelland, clearly came from the front -- indicating that more than one assassin participated.  After witnessing the Zapruder film years later, Dr. McClelland felt that the theory was validated, as the New York Times wrote in its obituary.

The tone and tenor of the obituary treats Dr. McClelland as a faithful and reliable witness. My sense is that the author thought Dr. McClelland's theory was right. If indeed Wroe is the author, she is unquestionably an individual with a great degree of reporting skill. She has borne witness to the reality of American presidential politics at the highest level for nearly fifty years.  What other discussions Ms. Wroe has had over the decades that informed her opinion, I and perhaps no one else can say.

But that she chose to draw attention to this careful, methodical, dedicated surgeon was no accident.  Both she and he fully appreciated the importance of what happened on November 22, 1963. Dr. McClelland preserved the blood stained shirt in which he operated that day for the rest of his life. He had fought that afternoon to save the life of a 46-year-old father of two, who happened to also be the leader of the free world. He would fight every bit as hard two days later to save the life of the accused assassin. There are fewer higher tributes to the medical profession than the sense of duty that compelled this surgeon to render aid under both circumstances. For that, the McClelland family has much to be proud.