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Merrill College

Dr. Kathleen Kelly, former Merrill College staff member and University of Florida professor emerita, dies at 77

Dr. Kathleen Kelly
Dr. Kathleen Kelly (Photo courtesy of the University of Florida)

Dr. Kathleen Kelly, a University of Maryland alumna who worked at UMD, died at age 77 on April 28 in St. Augustine, Florida, after a long struggle with COPD.

During her time at Maryland, Kelly served as the development director at the then-College of Journalism and held various other positions on campus.

Dr. Kathleen Kelly
Dr. Kathleen Kelly (Photo Courtesy of the University of Florida)

Kelly was a University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications public relations professor emeritus who retired in 2019 after 16 years at the school, including three as Public Relations Department chair. 

She received her bachelor’s degree (1973), master’s degree (1979) and Ph.D. (1989) from the University of Maryland, where she also taught for five years. Her Ph.D. was in Public (Mass) Communication, with a specialization in public relations.

She is survived by her husband of 60 years George F. Kelly, daughter Jodie Anne Funderburk (Greg), granddaughters Sarah and Catherine Levy, brother Russell Mehrman Jr. (Judith) and many beloved cousins, nieces, nephews, close friends, students and professional associates. Preceding her in death were her daughter Jennifer Lynn Kelly, parents Russell and Idun Mehrman, and sister Julie Hillman (Charles).

She was widely recognized as the leading authority on fundraising as a specialization of public relations. She was the recipient of three of the highest awards in public relations teaching and research: the 2004 PRSA Outstanding Educator Award, the PRSA Foundation’s Jackson Jackson and Wagner Behavioral Science Prize in 1999, and the Institute for Public Relations’ 1995 Pathfinder Award in recognition of lifetime achievement in public-relations research.

Before working at the University of Florida, Kelly was a professor and coordinator of the public relations program at the University of Louisiana, where she held an endowed research professorship for 10 years. 

In lieu of flowers or gifts, the family requests a donation in the name of Dr. Kathleen Kelly to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Multicultural Scholarship Fund.

The original version of this obituary was published by the University of Florida.

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