Obituary: John Steven Wilson Kellett

Activist and philanthropist John Steven Wilson Kellett passed away in his sleep early on the morning of Sunday, January 28, 2018.

Born in 1927, he was the only son of Harold Irving Kellett and Alice Anne Briggs Kellett,  and grew up in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He attended Phillips Andover Academy and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At MIT, he earned both his undergraduate and graduate degrees in chemical engineering. Immediately upon graduation, he was hired by Exxon, and began a career in refinery planning and project management that would take him across the globe — to New York, London, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Okinawa. In 1972, the company transferred him to Houston, the city he would call home for the rest of his life.

An avid lover of opera, chamber music, dance, and musical theater, he was a patron of many arts organizations in Houston, including the Houston Grand Opera, Opera in the Heights, and Chamber Music Houston. He served for many years on the board of Bayou City Concert Musicals. He was also a longtime active member of the Unitarian Universalist Church, and in his own words, “strongly supported its principles.”

He was particularly passionate about ending discrimination against LGBTQ people. He served for 10 years on the board of the Texas Human Rights Foundation, established in 1977 by Robert “Mort” Schwab to repeal Texas’ sodomy law. A few years after his retirement from Exxon, he established the John Steven Kellett Foundation, a 501(c)3 that fosters the LGBTQ communities of Houston by funding educational, cultural, and charitable organizations. Those organizations include QFest, HATCH Youth, PFLAG Houston, the Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit, and the JD Doyle Archives. He also provided significant support for the LGBT Student Center at MIT, which in 2001 inaugurated an annual award in his name to recognize an individual or group at MIT for exceptional, sustained commitment to creating a more welcoming environment.

A memorial service will be held at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, February 25 at the First Unitarian Universalist Church, 5200 Fannin St., Houston. In lieu of flowers, please honor Kellett’s memory by donating to an LGBTQ charity of your choice.


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