Patricia "Tish" Kelly

Patricia “Tish” Kelly passed away on July 12, 2019 in Fargo, North Dakota from natural causes. Born in Fort Sill, Oklahoma in 1932 to Brigadier General Leonard Greeley and Jane Greeley, Tish was the third oldest of five children. She had two older brothers, Leonard Jr. and John, and two younger sisters, Alicia and Sharon. Tish grew up as an “army brat” in a family with a long and distinguished history of military service. She moved throughout the world in her younger years, including living in the Philippines, and graduated from Holy Trinity High School in Washington, D.C. in 1950. Tish received her Bachelor of Arts in History and Political Science from the University of Maryland in 1954 where she was a member of the Phi Alpha Theta National History Honor Society. Following graduation, she began her career in Washington, D.C., working as an analyst for the National Security Agency. Thereafter, she served as a legislative aide, first for U.S. Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon and then for U.S. Congressman Jeffrey Cohelan of California. Among her accomplishments, she was fluent in Russian. Tish met her future husband, John D. Kelly of Grand Forks, North Dakota, at a fundraising dinner in Washington, D.C. for President John F. Kennedy. John often joked that his ticket to the fundraiser was the best investment he ever made. Tish and John married in 1961 and moved to Fargo shortly thereafter, where John began a long and distinguished career as an attorney at the Vogel Law Firm and later served as a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit before his untimely death in 1998. Tish and John raised three boys in Fargo – David, Peter, and Daniel. While her life was full of many accomplishments, none was more important to her than raising her three wonderful sons. Tish embarked on her own storied and trailblazing career in public service when she was elected to the North Dakota House of Representatives in 1974 from District 21 in Fargo, during a time in which very few women were elected to public office. She served in the North Dakota House of Representatives for 9 terms and had the honor of being unanimously elected as the Speaker of the House during the 1982-1984 term, being only the second woman in the state’s history and the only woman in the United States at the time to serve in that prestigious role. She served on many important legislative committees, including Appropriations and Finance & Taxation, and chaired several interim committees, including Education and Human Services. Tish finished her career in elected office by serving for a term in the North Dakota Senate, retiring from office in 1994. A life-long Democrat but someone who strived to work on a bipartisan basis, she was a champion of education and women’s rights, and understood the important role she played for the women who followed in her footsteps. Tish co-chaired the Mondale-Ferraro and Clinton-Gore presidential campaigns in North Dakota. Tish’s passion for public service extended beyond the legislature. She served on numerous boards, including the North Dakota Municipal Bond Bank Advisory Board, the North Dakota Film Commission, the Developmental Disabilities Council, and the Advisory Board of Minnesota Public Radio. She later volunteered as a court advocate at the Fargo Rape and Abuse Crisis Center. Tish will be deeply missed by all those that knew and loved her, but we take great comfort in the significant impacts she made during her extraordinary life. Tish is survived by her sons, Peter Kelly of Fargo and Daniel Kelly of Dallas, Texas, Daniel’s wife Kim and their children, Kaitlin and Brendan, her daughter-in-law, Julie Kelly, her sister, Sharon Greeley of Santa Fe, New Mexico, as well as many nieces and nephews and their families. She was predeceased by her husband, John, and her oldest son, David. Memorial donations may be made to the John D. Kelly Endowment Fund benefiting Legal Assistance of North Dakota, administered by the North Dakota Community Foundation.

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  1. A genuinely good person, and an effective legislator for a time when political parties weren’t at war with each other.
    Tish was a pleasure to know and I am proud to have served with her.
    She has more than earned her place in ND history.
    The Kelly family has much to be proud of.

  2. Very sad to read of Tish Kelly’s passing. She was an excellent role model for women seeking elective office and leadership positions. My deepest sympathy to her sons Peter and Daniel Kelly.

  3. Tish was a great mentor to me after she talked me into running for the ND House of Representatives. I thinks of her often. Rest in peace Tish. Jean Rayl

  4. My deepest sympathy to all of the Kelly family. What a wonderful , beautiful, and accomplished life she had. May her memory be eternal. God bless,
    Sincerely, the Cosgrove family (Julie Kelly’s cousin)

  5. Tish was one of the first, as was her husband, John, to take on the battles for the Dem-NPL party. Tish was a great role model for women in politics and encouraged women to go forth into improving lives for women and children. Her words of wisdom in District 21, were always helpful in bringing the party to a better place for the lives of North Dakotans across the state.

    God gave his memories so we might have roses in December (Barrie) Though the tears with sadness never cease, my prayers for you are the tears with laughter flow as you remember the happy times shared. God’s blessings of patience, wisdom, strength,and courage for each new day.

  6. We are neighbors of Tish Kelly at 404 Condos. Although we haven’t had much contact with Tish the last couple of years, Tish always livened up our Condo Christmas Parties and was very knowledgeable in any area of conversation. Tish shared her life story with me one day and it is a life full of accomplishments. I glad we got to know Tish even just a little.

    Wendel and Donna Mongeon

  7. A champion from District 21 in the heart of Fargo!
    She loved North Dakota and provided leadership to those who sought to follow in her footsteps.
    She made history! I will never forget her.

  8. Peter and Danny,
    I am so saddened to hear this news. Your mom (and dad) were such good friends to Kay and Larry for so many years. I know they are somewhere having a “bump” and talking politics! I am sure David is there joining in. And I know Uncle John and dad will be searching for the perfect Christmas tree come December. I will forever remember your mom and dad. Wishing you all peace and strength through this difficult time.

  9. My sincere condolences to Tish’s family and friends. It was fortunate to serve with Tish in the Senate beginning in 1986 when Governor Sinner called a special session. A unique feature of Tish and John was how they referred to each other by using their full names. They did this even informally when speaking with me about the other. I took it to mean they respected each other’s independent work.
    Senator Kelly often spoke up for persons with low incomes or special needs. She had a keen understanding of social justice which I miss.

  10. Rest in Peace, Aunt Tish. You were a force for good. My heart is with Dan and Peter, now. There is no loss quite as devastating as the loss of a mother. Sending you both lots of love.

  11. Peter and Dan,

    You have my sympathies on the passing of your dear mother. She was a person with a brilliant mind, a caring heart and a passion to serve. She made her mark in this world.

  12. Tish was fierce. She was a great mentor and supporter of women. I’ll never forget attending the 1980 DNC with her leading our North Dakota delegation. She was a truly remarkable woman. My sympathies to the entire Kelly family.

  13. We would like to express our condolences to Kelly family members specially Peter and Dan Kelly and Dr. Sharon Greeley. Mrs. Kelly was an advocate for justice for all people. She was the first woman who served as North Dakota Speaker of the House which broke barriers for women. As an elected senator she worked hard to pass laws that could help her constituents. She was a voice for voiceless people. She believed in equality for all people regardless of color, gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation. She was an advocate for true emancipation and equality for women.
    When we arrived in Fargo from San Diego in 1985 we were introduced to Mrs. Kelly and her late husband Judge Kelly through her sister Dr. Sharon Greeley. It has been a pleasure to know Kelly and Greeley family members since then. They all have been great, kind, and helpful to all citizens in the State and through out the country and world.
    We believe Mrs. Kelly is in a better place today than this earthy world. She is now in heaven with John and David. God bless Tish and her family. Hope our pass cross again.
    Mort, Stephanie, Sina, Cyrus Sarabakhsh

  14. Tish was a good friend and she served our state and our country well, never shy about stating her positions or being a leader. She was a role model for many.

  15. Tish was a remarkable person and leader. She was a mentor to me in the legislature like she was to so many. Her calm demeanor and sharp intellect earned her bipartisan respect and admiration. My sympathies go out to the Kelly family. Rest In Peace Tish Kelly.

  16. Tish was serving in ND house when I was elected.Her advice was much appreciated.She lead by example. I first met Tish at a Cass Electic function when she was with John.I have great respect for both Tish and John. I think of them often.


  17. Peter, Daniel, and family;
    Sorry we couldn’t make it today, Fargo/Jamestown wonderful weather. Know we’re thinking of you all, especially your wonderful mother, Tish. What a mover and a shaker! Truly a gracious lady worth emulating. She made this world a better place for sure. Hugs to you all, we think the world of your family!!

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