The consummate Oregonian

| Print |  Email
Articles - April 2012
Thursday, March 22, 2012

 

0412_TheConsummateOregonian_06
Kelly with his father, Neil, in 1983. The photo on the wall is of Tom and his twin brother John, which long served as the advertising logo for the company.
// Photo courtesy of The Oregonian

Kelly’s cooperative ethos springs in part from his father, a larger-than-life figure whose story, as relayed by Kelly, sounds like founding myth. A Minnesota farm boy, Neil Kelly in the Great Depression “rode the rails” to the Pacific Northwest to work in the Kaiser shipyards, then in 1947 purchased a weatherization company for $100. He and his wife, Arlene, a Quaker converted to Catholic peace activist, worked out of their basement while raising eight children. At once entrepreneurial and socially conscious, Kelly was the first president of the National Association of Remodelers, and the first member of the Portland Development Commission to hail from a neighborhood outside downtown.

The senior Kelly’s business and social responsibility ethic trickled down to their children, six of whom stayed in Portland and collectively form a kind of Kelly dynasty. Kelly’s sister Anne was the former director of Loaves & Fishes; sister Susan was a staffer to Charlie Hales; brother Jim was the founder of Rejuvenation, the lighting fixtures manufacturer now owned by Williams & Sonoma. (A nephew-in law, Bryan Steelman, owns the popular Portland Mexican chain, ¿Por Qué No?) As for Kelly, he says he was expected early on to take over the family business. Of all the siblings, he was “the most enthralled” by the carpenters going in and out of the family home. “I’m not going to tell you that it was all straightforward with no stress,” says Kelly of the succession. “But it was fairly minimal.”

Like many second-generation business owners, Kelly retained something of an Oedipal relationship with his father, who died in 1995. (His mother passed in 2008). “When you are the son of a guy like my dad, everybody who surrounds you wants you to be him, said or unsaid,” Kelly says. “I came to peace with that many years ago, that I wasn’t going to try and be my dad. I think it was one of my better life decisions.”

On a late winter Wednesday evening, Kelly and his wife, Barbara Woodford, are on their houseboat on the Columbia River (remodeled, naturally, in 1994). An avid sailboat racer, Kelly last year won the premier long-distance yacht race on the West Coast, the Swiftsure, which starts and ends in Victoria, B.C. “We kind of took home all the marbles,” he says.

Kelly met Woodford, an attorney at Liberty Mutual Group, while both worked in Washington, D.C., for former Oregon Congressman Les AuCoin. (Kelly was an intern; Woodford, a secretary). Sharper edged than her husband, Woodford seems a perfect foil for Kelly, a man whose greatest strength and greatest weakness, she says, is that he’s “too trusting.” Woodford provides Kelly with “steadfast support,” says family friend and Hood River commissioner Maui Meyer, adding: “If Tom wasn’t married to Barbara, he couldn’t do half the things he does.”

Back on the houseboat, Woodford doesn’t mince words about the challenges of living up to Neil Kelly. “Tom’s dad was an exciting person:  he put women into high profile managerial spots when that was very unusual,” she says. Kelly’s father was a groundbreaker in other respects, hiring minority contractors when that, too, was uncommon. “Tom’s done all that, too,” Woodford says. “But now it’s not so special.”



 

More Articles

Sun set

June 2015
Friday, May 22, 2015
BY CHRIS NOBLE

The right sunglasses can protect your eyes and look cool at the same time. This being the 21st century, select shades are socially conscious, too. Portland brand Shwood uses wood and other natural materials and manufactures locally. Founded by Ann Sacks, the brand Fetch dedicates a portion of its profits to animal welfare. But whether you choose classic tortiseshell or aviator chic, please, shed the sunglasses when you walk in the door — and, of course, at night. 


Read more...

Marijuana law ushers in new business age

The Latest
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
062315panelthumbBY KIM MOORE | RESEARCH EDITOR

Oregon’s new marijuana law is expected to lead to a bevy of new business opportunities for the state. And not just for growers. Law firms, HR consultants, energy efficiency companies and many others are expected to benefit from the decriminalization of pot, according to panelists at an Oregon Business breakfast meeting on Tuesday.


Read more...

Oregon needs a Grand Bargain energy plan

Linda Baker
Monday, June 22, 2015
0622-gastaxblogthumbBY LINDA BAKER

The Clean Fuels/gas tax trade off will go down in history as another disjointed, on-again off-again approach to city and state lawmaking.


Read more...

Apartment Mania

Guest Blog
Thursday, June 18, 2015
4805983977 11466ce1d6 zBY BRAD HOULE | CFA

While most categories of commercial real estate have performed well, one of the most robust has been apartment buildings.


Read more...

5 things to know about veterans in the workforce

The Latest
Wednesday, July 01, 2015
070215-vetsthumbBY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

There are more than 10 million former military members working in the United States.


Read more...

The ancient fish that stops bullets

The Latest
Friday, May 08, 2015
hagfishthumbBY CHRIS NOBLE | PHOTOS BY JASON E. KAPLAN

Hagfish may not have evolved much over the last 300 million years, but their protein-heavy slime promises advances in super-materials.


Read more...

Photo Diary: Forest Grove Farmers Market

The Latest
Thursday, May 14, 2015
IMG 8469BY JASON E. KAPLAN | STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

There are more than 160 farmers markets in Oregon, contributing an estimated $50 million in sales, according to the Oregon Farmers Markets Association. We checked in on the Forest Grove market, which for several years has brought local produce and food vendors to Main Street in the center of town.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS