Pat Kelly, Giving Back

Pat Kelly

Pat Kelly

I was named after my uncle Patrick. Many boys are named after their father, but my father deserted my family when my mother was pregnant with me. So it was my uncle who rushed my mother to the hospital as she went into labor, and I bear his name.

My mother struggled as a single mom raising three children – me and my two older siblings. We stayed with family members for several years, but eventually it became too tough. In 1952, my brother was placed at the Virginia Home for Boys in Richmond. He was eight years old, the minimum age for enrollment. Although I was only five years old at the time, under the minimum age requirement, the Home made an exception for me so that I could live with my brother.

I spent the next thirteen and a half years at what became my home.

Pop Wood, my first houseparent who had been working at the Boys Home for 30 years, became a father figure to me. I still recall his response after I was caught stealing a tube of glue from the 5 and 10. I thought he was going to be angry or beat me. Instead, he said, “You are a bright kid and you know better than this. I never want to hear about you stealing again.” And I never did.

Beyond the many valuable lessons I learned at the Boys Home, I received love that changed me. Pop Hazelgrove was another man who greatly influenced me. I remember coming in past curfew after working late and having a few beers. I quietly snuck into my cottage, only to find there was somebody in my bed! It was Pop Hazelgrove, who had been waiting for me. He said, “Son, I was waiting for you to come home.” Although we talked about the infraction the next morning, Pops’ first response was concern and love. This kind of love characterized my stay at the Boys Home.

The Boys Home afforded me many opportunities that I cherish to this day. I participated in sports, and learned to work hard and value competition. I had a long-time side job at a local pharmacy and by the time I graduated the Boys Home, I was able to buy a new car in cash, as I had saved money the entire time.

Later, I was drafted to fight the war in Vietnam. After serving my time, I went back to college and earned my degree. I became vice president of sales at a medical supplies company that was later acquired by another British company. The new management did not like our approach and fired me. I saw this as an opportunity to start my own company in 1983, with two co-workers, five employees, $60,000, and the fundamental life skills I acquired at the Home. Physicians Sales and Service, Inc. (PSS) grew to a $2 billion company with over 6,000 employees.

In 1997, I was honored to receive the Horatio Alger award, along with other notables such as James Earl Jones, Ted Turner, and Bob Crandel. The award recognizes individuals who come from “rags to riches” and give back to their community.

I believe giving back to my community is one of the most important things I can do. The loving, dedicated people at my residential education program shaped my life profoundly. I still keep in touch with Pop Hazelgrove (who I visit in the hospital), Pop Woods, other staff, and classmates with whom I have regular reunions in Richmond. Never forgetting the many opportunities I was provided, I created the Boys Home Foundation in 1999 to financially support the Home I grew up in and other residential education programs that are impacting the lives of at-risk children.

August 2009