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Michigan officials react to former state Attorney General Frank Kelley's passing

Detroit Free Press logo Detroit Free Press 3/7/2021 Free Press staff, Detroit Free Press

Word of former Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelley's death late Friday at age 96 drew an outpouring of remembrances Saturday from current and former Michigan officials. Here is what they said:

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.: 

“I am deeply saddened to hear of my friend Frank Kelley’s passing. Frank made history as the nation’s longest-serving attorney general. Those who have followed have been measured by the high bar he set for public service and consumer protection. It was an honor and a pleasure to serve with Frank in state government. And I am thinking of his family today as we mourn the loss of a true legend.” 

a man wearing a suit and tie: (122998 PHOTO BY: GABRIEL B. TAIT / DETROIT FREE PRESS) Retiring Attorney General Frank Kelley looks out of his office window in the G. Mennen Williams Building in Lansing Tuesday, December 29, 1998. Kelley's last day in office will be Wednesday, December 30, 1998. Kelley says he plans to start a private law firm but would not offer any details. © Gabriel B. Tait, Detroit Free Press (122998 PHOTO BY: GABRIEL B. TAIT / DETROIT FREE PRESS) Retiring Attorney General Frank Kelley looks out of his office window in the G. Mennen Williams Building in Lansing Tuesday, December 29, 1998. Kelley's last day in office will be Wednesday, December 30, 1998. Kelley says he plans to start a private law firm but would not offer any details.

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More: Michigan's 'Eternal General' Frank Kelley dies at age 96

Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn, whose late husband, John Dingell, was a longtime friend of Kelley:

“Frank Kelley and John Dingell were friends for nearly 70 years, and he was a friend and mentor I could trust with my whole heart. He fought hard for the underdog, cared deeply about people, and cherished the role he played in protecting democracy and human rights.

"Even though he never hesitated to make sure his voice was heard, he listened to everyone with an open mind. With an infectious laugh and bright smile, he could make you laugh at the darkest of times. He was a rock for all those who knew him, and he will be deeply missed.”

Former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard:

 "Frank J Kelley was not just a legend in Michigan politics, he was a giant in American public service. He belongs to an era of civility, decency, nonpartisanship and respect for others and the rule of law.  ...

 "Frank Kelley was a mentor to thousands of young lawyers, judges and aspiring public servants. I was one, and I will be forever grateful for Frank’s help, support and lifetime of friendship. Being with Frank Kelley was more fun than anyone I ever met in politics. Frank was an historian, a motion picture expert, an amateur psychologist and a student of comedians. I think Frank would have loved to have had a television comedy show. (He once got Jimmy Durante to campaign for him). ...

  "Frank Kelley was not just a great man, he was a good man. And he will live in our hearts forever."

Stacie Clayton, chair of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission:

"Today, we join with many others who are mourning the passing of Frank Kelley, the People's Attorney General. Some of his legal crusades are legendary and are still remarked upon decades later. Unknown to many is how Kelley pursued equality in his own office and gave Black and female lawyers opportunities they never had before. Kelley sought out strong women, like Maxine Boord Virtue, who became the first head of the new Consumer Protection Division he founded. We remember these acts and others as important parts of Frank Kelley’s legacy of service to the people of Michigan."

James White, director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights:

"Frank Kelley is recognized as a champion of consumer protection and environmental protection. But he also took on civil rights issues, putting an end to racially restrictive real estate practices. At a time when justice for African Americans who were victims of crime was hard to find, Frank Kelley prosecuted a controversial case involving a white gang and the senseless killing of Grady Little, an African American man. Though he ultimately lost the case, he won the respect of many, including Detroit’s Black community, by demonstrating he was the Attorney General for all people, regardless of race. At a time when unbiased enforcement of the law meant he would likely make powerful enemies, Attorney General Kelley did the right thing anyway."

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer:

“Frank J. Kelley was one of my absolute favorite people from whom to get advice, perspective, or humor. He was a never-ending fount of wisdom and fun. From his college days to the battles he fought as Michigan’s longest serving attorney general, he always had stories and insight into the human condition and generosity of time. I know I am among countless, fortunate people who had the honor of working with the brilliant and irascible Frank J. Kelley. He will be missed but his mark on Michigan will be felt — as generations were benefited by his leadership.  His endorsement of and counsel to candidates like me meant as much to us as it did to the public we hoped to serve. I’ll forever be grateful to my friend, Mr. Kelley.” 

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel:  

“It is with a heavy heart that I join you in mourning the passing of former Attorney General Frank Kelley.  Mr. Kelley was an extraordinary man, the quintessential public servant, and a legend in his own time. Having served as Michigan’s attorney general for 37 years, he was, on his retirement in 1999, the longest-serving state attorney general in the country, earning the nickname of the “Eternal General.”  During those many years of service, he was a beacon to the State, a mentor to many, and a valued adviser to notable public officials. As extraordinary as his accomplishments were, many will best remember Mr. Kelley for his humor, friendship, and humanity. He will be sorely missed.”  

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller:

 “Frank Kelley blazed the trail for all state attorneys general to become ‘the people’s lawyer.’ He was the first to capture the full role of the AG in consumer and environmental protection, utility regulation, and civil rights. He was a wonderful person and a very close personal friend. And oh, yes, I will always remember the Kelley wit.” 

Former Michigan Gov. and current U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm:  

"Frank Kelley was my first mentor in state government and what a teacher he was, with an Irishman’s gift of humor and a fierce heart for the average working person. When I was governor, Frank would pop into my office every few weeks with humorous advice on how to fight and who to fight. He wasn't one to back down whether it was wrangling with the utility companies or corrupt officials. No wonder he held the record as the nation’s longest serving Attorney General for so many years. Voters loved him and he loved them back. And I loved him, too." 

Former House Republican Leader Dennis Cawthorne:  

“Frank was one of the most kind-hearted, honest, ethical persons I have ever known, in both his public service and in his 15 years of practice with me in the private law sector.  He was a true legend, recognized as such across the nation and deservedly so.”   

Jack Lessenberry,  political writer and commentator and Kelley biographer:

“Frank Kelley didn't just serve as Michigan's attorney general longer than anyone in state history — he really invented the office in its modern form. adding consumer protection and environmental divisions before other states had them, and was a fierce defender of civil rights and the godfather of many a career, from Gov. Jim Blanchard to Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Most of all, he was defined by the title of our book — 'The People's Lawyer.' ” 

Candice Miller, Macomb County Public Works commissioner and former U.S. representative and former Michigan secretary of state: “My first term as Michigan Secretary of State was General Kelley’s last term as Attorney General. I was very honored that our terms overlapped so that I got a chance to serve with him, know him and work together on a number of issues. He was such a wonderful, professional public servant. What an impactful life he led.”

Former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and former U.S. Rep.  Sandy Levin:

“We had the opportunity going back a half century to witness first-hand Frank Kelley's passionate commitment to public service. He was an avid advocate for the rights of consumers and for the civil rights of all Americans. His good nature and sense of humor provided a genuine boost for those causes he held so dear.“

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan officials react to former state Attorney General Frank Kelley's passing

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