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Dr. Harmon Kelley’s Legacy of Medicine and Art



Compassionate, nurturing, loyal, and kind were just many of the words spoken about Dr. Harmon Kelley at his funeral services on Feb. 1. He passed away on Jan. 26 from a heart attack at the age of 77.

Born in 1945 in Cameron, Texas, Dr. Kelley and his wife, Harriett, had a significant impact locally and nationwide. Dr. Kelley moved to San Antonio in the late 1970s during a time when the city had just a few African American doctors. In 1978, he founded Southeast OB-GYN Associates, P.A., where he practiced for 44 years, the past 20 years with Dr. Margaret Kelley, his daughter. Before that, Southeast San Antonio didn’t have a doctor in obstetrics-gynecology.

Over the years, the Kelleys’ interest in African American art grew and the couple founded the Harriett and Harmon Kelley Foundation for the Arts. A Texas Monthly article in 1996 said the Kelleys filled a void in the art world by increasing the value and influence of Black art, and museum curators to emissaries from foreign countries inquired about borrowing or buying from their collection.

Rich Aste, CEO/director of The McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, said thanks to Dr. Kelley, McNay leaned even further into its mission of engaging absolutely every member of its diverse community in the discovery and enjoyment of the visual arts.

“From his leadership role as a McNay Trustee and Emeritus Trustee to his key role in the search for the Museum’s first Latino director, he was a champion for change,” Aste said. “His legacy of inclusivity, growth, and love will inform our work for generations.”

In 1995, the Kelleys collection became the first private African American art collection ever exhibited by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Aaronetta and Dr. Joseph A. Pierce Jr. also advocates for African American art, said, “Harriet and Harmon meticulously built one of the finest collections of great art by African Americans in the country. They advanced the respect and visibility of these artists immeasurably.”

As an alumnus of Prairie View A&M University and U.S. Army veteran, Dr. Kelley’s commitment to his practice and profession was evident in his numerous awards, including lifetime achievement awards. There’s even a charter school named after him – the Dr. Harmon W. Kelley Elementary School in San Antonio. In 2006, he was awarded The Ashbel Smith Distinguished Alumni (ASDA) Award, the highest alum honor bestowed by the University of Texas Medical Branch School of Medicine Alumni Association. The award recognizes outstanding service to the medical profession and humanity. Also in 2011, he received the Bexar County Medical Society’s highest honor, the Golden Aesculapius Award, which recognized his lifetime of distinguished service as a Bexar County Medical Society member to patients and the medical profession. This honor is only given on occasion.

In 2011, Dr. Kelley received the Southside Chamber of Commerce Legends Award to honor his commitment and service to San Antonio’s Southside.

Dr. Kelley’s achievements were a testament to what his patients already knew about him. Dr. Margaret Kelley said at the funeral she was “blown away” by how efficient her father was as a physician. She said even with his deep, baritone voice, he knew how to provide calm and solace to a soon-to-be mom in the labor room.

Likewise, Dr. Kelley was proud of his two daughters. He would tell his patients to call (Margaret) Dr. Kelley “because she deserved to be treated with the same respect.” After all, they both had the same credentials.
His other daughter, Jennifer Kelley, tearfully spoke about how her father would shower her with steaks. She joked that “most girls love flowers; I love steak.”

She also talked about how she and her father shared a love of music from listening to Earth, Wind & Fire, the Isley Brothers, Prince, Teddy Pendergrass, and more.

“We loved to turn the music way up in the car so we could hear the music and the bass,” Jennifer Kelley said. And Dr. Harmon Kelley was also a self-appointed English teacher. Dr. Margaret Kelley said with some of his younger patients, her father would kindly correct their grammar.

“When they say they ‘hurted,” he would tell them ‘hurted’ was not a word and it’s better to say you are hurting badly,” Dr. Margaret Kelley said.

San Antonio Express-News Columnist Cary Clack said Dr. (Harmon) Kelley has two great legacies. One is medical in that you have a Black OB-GYN open his practice on the Southeast side of San Antonio, providing a critical need, and he never left, staying there for 44 years until his death. “The other legacy, of course, is what he and Harriett did to curate, promote, and preserve the work of Black artists,” Clack added. “That a Black couple from San Antonio amassed the collection of Black art that they did is amazing.”

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