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Frank Kelley, Michigan attorney general for 37 years, dies

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Posted at 9:10 PM, Mar 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-06 21:10:25-05

Frank J. Kelley, affectionately called the “eternal general” for his 37 years as Michigan's longest-serving attorney general, has died at age 96, his family said Saturday

Kelley, a Democrat, served from 1961 to 1999, winning statewide election 10 times. He moved to Naples, Florida, in 2020 and died Friday night, spokesman Chris De Witt said.

Kelley was state government's top lawyer at a time of sweeping change in politics and culture. He was credited with creating consumer and environmental protection divisions in the attorney general's office and was a defender of civil rights.

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who became attorney general after Kelley's retirement, said he had 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," Granholm said. “He wasn’t one to back down whether it was wrangling with the utility companies or corrupt officials.”

Michigan AG Dana Nessel released this statement:

“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 advisor to notable public officials. And his energy and genuine passion for public service inspired countless others to likewise dedicate their talents in service to the People of Michigan. Mr. Kelley’s accomplishments are legion: He was the first attorney general in the country to establish Consumer Protection, Criminal Fraud, and Environmental Protection divisions; his influence led to the passage of the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act; he was a leading figure in the tobacco settlement that benefitted Michigan and many other states; and he served as the president of the National Association of Attorneys General, a group that honored him by naming its most prestigious award—the Kelley-Wyman Award for outstanding service and national contributions—after him. As extraordinary as his accomplishments were, many will best remember Mr. Kelley for his humor, friendship, and humanity. He will be sorely missed.”