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John S. W. Kellett '47, SM '48

Retired chemical engineer makes activism a second career.

Like many retirees, John Kellett ‘47, SM ‘48, is extremely busy. He is an active member of the Unitarian Universalist church, works out with a personal trainer, and attends most of Houston’s opera, ballet, and chamber-music performances as a season-ticket subscriber. Unlike most retirees, however, he’s also a longtime activist on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) issues and runs a small foundation to support GLBT initiatives.

John Kellett champions gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues.(Courtesy of Alumni Association.)

He became an activist in the early 1970s, in the midst of a 38-year career with Exxon. “When I look back at it now, I don’t know how I fit that in with my work for Exxon,” he says. Kellett joined the company in 1948, after completing two degrees in chemical engineering at MIT. His work encompassed a variety of refining, planning, marketing, and project-management assignments in New Jersey, New York, London, Italy, Hong Kong, and Okinawa. In 1972, he was transferred to the Far East regional headquarters in Houston, where he became senior advisor in logistics and, later, finance and planning. He held the latter position until he retired in 1986.

Shortly -after moving to Texas, Kellett became involved with social and support groups advocating gay rights, particularly the Texas Human Rights Foundation, and he was a founding member of Prime Timers-Houston, an organization for older gay and bisexual men. In 1992, he started the John Steven Kellett Foundation to fund nonprofits that provide education, support, and advocacy for GBLT people. Last year the foundation awarded $14,000 to local groups such as the Gay Men’s Chorus of Houston, the Lesbian Health Initiative of Houston, and Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, as well as to national entities active in Houston, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal.

Kellett also reached out to MIT to increase support for GLBT students and alumni. He has funded both undergraduate and alumni programs and helped write the bylaws for BGALA, MIT’s bisexual, gay, and lesbian alumni group. He was recognized for his efforts in 2001 as the first recipient of the John S. W. Kellett ‘47 Award, given annually at MIT’s awards convocation for creating a more welcoming environment at the Institute.

Kellett is impressed with the resources for GLBT students at MIT today. “When I was there, minority sexual orientation wasn’t even thought of. There was absolutely nothing,” he says. “That’s why it was exciting when these things finally started to happen.” And with his help, good things will undoubtedly continue to happen.

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