The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

Obituary: John Thomas Kelsey July 24, 1920 – August 27, 2013


It is with deepest sadness that the family announces the tremendous loss of John Thomas Kelsey. He passed away on August 27 in Anchorage at 93 years of age. John was a fourth generation Alaskan. He was born in Valdez on July 24, 1920, where he spent most of his life, except for his college and war years. John attended Stanford University where he received a Bachelors of Engineering, followed by Columbia University, where he attended war time US Navy Officer Candidate School, then Anti-Submarine School, after which he was assigned to the Pacific Theater during World War II, eventually earning the rank of Lieutenant. His duty involved Navy vessels in numerous assignments, including Navigator of the troop transport USS Olmstead (APA 188) and Commander of the PC-1079, an anti-submarine destroyer. John participated in most major landings and battles in the Aleutians and the Pacific.

John returned to Valdez following the war to assist his father and brother in running the family business, the Valdez Dock Company. This business involved agent for the Alaska Steamship Company, both receiving and shipping freight and petroleum products to Interior Alaska from both freight and petroleum docks, freight transfer, bulk fuel storage of petroleum products, asphalt plant, and agent for petroleum ships and truck tankers.

John met the love of his life, Jeannette Hogane Kelsey, in Valdez and they married in Phoenix, Arizona in 1947. They were married for almost 55 years until Jeannette's death in Anchorage in October, 2001.

John led a long and accomplished life, surrounded by great friends and family.

His passion was his service to his country, his state and his community. He held many offices, received many honors and attained many accomplishments. One indicative heroic act was saving the lives of US Navy Ensign Lando Zech Jr. and four other seamen from the waters between Saipan and Enewetak. Lando Zech went on to become the 1st Commander of the 1st US Atomic Submarine, the USS Nautilus, a 3-Star Admiral, and head of Navy Personnel at the Pentagon.

Additional offices John held included: Chief of the Valdez Volunteer Fire Department; Mayor of the City of Valdez; multiple terms on the Valdez City Council; President of the Valdez Chamber of Commerce; Board Member of the Valdez Permanent Fund; Chairman of the Alaska Permanent Fund Board of Trustees; Chairman of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority; President of the Alaska State Development Corporation; President of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce; member of the Alaska Civilian Advisory Council advising Alaska military leaders; member of the Alaska Natural Gas Development Authority; member of the First National Bank Alaska (FNBA) Board of Directors for over 30 years; and co-founder of OMAR which was the predecessor of the current Alaska Resource Development Council.

His accomplishments included working with Mobil Oil, Amerada Hess and the City of Valdez to issue $1.35 billion in tax-exempt municipal bonds to underwrite construction of the Alyeska Valdez Marine Terminal for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline (TAPS), which was at that time the largest municipal bond issue put together in the history of the U.S.; recipient of the 1978 Alaskan of the Year award from the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce; and Co-Chairman of the Alaska Railroad Commission during transfer of the Alaska Railroad from federal to state ownership. One of John's proudest honors was the City of Valdez naming the municipal dock the "John Thomas Kelsey Municipal Dock" in September, 2007.

John hunted, trapped, camped and boated around Alaska with many friends, and his family. His personal loves were flying his cherished Luscombe aircraft, his dogs, education and working. He enjoyed suggesting that weekends were "a good time to catch up on work."

John stated many times how fortunate we are to live in Alaska surrounded by indescribable beauty, to have wonderful friends and family, and to have our health. He was blessed with all these in abundance through the end of his life.

Valdez Star file photo

John Kelsey smiles as he is handed a bottle of champagne in October on 2007 by then-mayor Bert Cottle. Kelsey donned an old fireman’s coat as he was being honored by Valdez officials when the old city dock was rechristened the John T Kelsey Municipal Dock.

John was preceded in death by his beloved wife, Jeannette Kelsey, a daughter Susan Kelsey, and his brother, Robert Kelsey, Jr. He leaves behind many loving family members: his daughters Bonnette Cooper and Marty Kelsey Rutherford, his son-in-law Richard Cooper, his grand-daughter Jenny Cooper Adsitt and her husband Mark Adsitt, his grand-son John Cooper, his grand-daughter Kelsey Renno, his nephew Thomas Kelsey, and great-grand children Michael Cooper Liljedahl, Brandon Kelone, Casey Cooper Liljedahl, and Dustin Kelone. John also leaves behind many devoted friends, too numerous to name.

To celebrate John's life and accomplishments a memorial ceremony and reception will be held in Valdez, Alaska on Saturday, September 7. The memorial will begin at 2 p.m. at the Valdez Civic Center, and a reception following at the Civic Center beginning at 6 p.m. The events are open to all friends and family. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the John Thomas Kelsey Memorial Scholarship Fund at First National Bank Alaska to assist Valdez high school graduates pursue higher education.


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