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1912 - 2013

Mavis P. Kelsey, M.D. (I ’47)

Physicians, staff and patients at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic are mourning the loss of their founder, doctor and friend, Mavis P. Kelsey, M.D., who died Nov. 12, 2013.

Kelsey is remembered as a medical pioneer who brought the collaborative healthcare model to the Houston area more than 60 years ago when he founded Kelsey-Seybold Clinic.

“Dr. Kelsey was a true visionary and creative thinker who founded and developed a premier medical group that combines family and internal medicine with the highly focused expertise of specialists in all medical fields,” said Spencer Berthelsen, M.D., chairman of Kelsey-Seybold’s board of directors.

“His strong belief in a coordinated approach, grounded in a wellness-based philosophy, has enabled Kelsey-Seybold to provide a very high level of quality and efficient care to patients since Day One. Beyond being a brilliant physician, Dr. Kelsey was a caring and kind friend to the Kelsey-Seybold family of employees and many other people in his life. Without question, Dr. Kelsey is among Houston’s most influential physicians leaving behind his legacy as a physician, pioneer, leader and mentor.”

Kelsey honed his medical skills and embraced the idea of the collaborative care model at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He returned to his native Texas in 1948, bringing with him a dream to create a “Mayo Clinic of the Southwest,” and founded Kelsey-Seybold Clinic the next year. Keeping pace with greater Houston’s fast-growing population, Kelsey-Seybold grew quickly and today serves more than 400,000 patients at 20 locations. The clinic’s 415 providers collaboratively practice in more than 55 medical specialties.

In 1966, Kelsey-Seybold was selected to serve the medical needs of National Aeronautics and Space Administrations employees. Throughout Kelsey-Seybold’s association with NASA, the clinic contributed medical support services to the Apollo, Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz and Space Shuttle programs. In addition to providing onsite medical services at Houston’s Johnson Space Center and the White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico, Kelsey-Seybold also provides medical care to all NASA-affiliated personnel in Moscow.

Recruiting top-quality physicians and staff was always a priority.

“Other clinics came and went, but I think the reason that we survived was because we kept up our quality, and we kept up loyalty and dedication to that sole purpose of delivering medical care,” Kelsey once said.

In 1985, Kelsey retired from Kelsey-Seybold after 37 years of practice in Houston, but he continued to keep up with medical advancements and remained actively involved with many interests, hobbies and philanthropy.

He chronicled his medical career in one of several books he authored, “Twentieth-Century Doctor; House Calls to Space Medicine,” published in 1999. The Texas A&M University Press described the book as, “quintessentially the story of how medicine developed from a single-doctor, home-visit practice to the mega-business, high-tech system it now is, especially in urban areas.”

For his 100th birthday, Kelsey published “Texas Sayings and Folklore,” a collection of metaphors, axioms and proverbs unique to Texas as well as personal stories of his growing up in East Texas.

In an interview with the Houston Chronicle in 2012, Kelsey said, “You know what a vanity book is? It’s something somebody prints for vain purposes. That’s what this is for my 100th birthday.”

Berthelsen said Kelsey’s retirement announcement was a formality because he continued to remain involved at Kelsey-Seybold.

“Even recently, Dr. Kelsey continued to read medical journals. He was also very interested in new ideas and emerging technologies that could improve healthcare delivery and patient outcomes; however, he always reminded everyone of the importance of the personal relationship between physician and patient.”

Reflecting on his career in an April 2009 radio interview, Kelsey said, “I think the most enjoyable, the most gratifying part of my whole career was seeing patients.”

The grandson of a physician, Mavis Parrot Kelsey Sr., was born in Deport, Texas, in 1912. Although Deport had no electricity, water or sewers until the mid-1920s, Kelsey credits these early hardships with giving him the “toughness” to persevere during the hard times in his life and career.

Two great-great uncles, who were both doctors in the Confederate Army, and his family doctor, were role models and mentors, but it was his grandfather, Dr. J.B. Kelsey, who inspired him. Kelsey accompanied his grandfather on many house calls and by age 10, he knew he wanted a career in medicine.

He earned a bachelor of science from Texas A&M College in 1932 and a doctor of medicine degree from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston in 1936. Kelsey interned at New York City’s Bellevue Hospital after which he served for a year as instructor of pathology at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. From 1938-39, he served on the junior staff of Scott and White Clinic in Temple, Texas.

In 1939, Kelsey married Galveston native Mary Randolph Wilson and accepted a three-year fellowship in internal medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. While at Mayo Clinic, he strengthened friendships with future partners, Drs. William D. Seybold and William V. Leary. World War II interrupted Kelsey’s medical training, and he served in the U.S. Army Air Force Medical Corps from 1941-45. After the war, Kelsey completed his residency at Mayo Clinic, receiving a master of science degree in internal medicine from the University of Minnesota, Mayo Foundation in 1947. He was appointed to the Mayo Clinic staff as an instructor in medicine of the Mayo Foundation in the University of Minnesota.

A fifth-generation Texan, Kelsey founded a practice in the Texas Medical Center in 1949. That same year, he also became a staff member at what was then a new hospital called M.D. Anderson, where he set up the isotope lab and gave the first dose of radioactive iodine in Houston to treat thyroid cancer. In 1950, he encouraged two former Mayo Clinic colleagues, Drs. Seybold and Leary, to consider the prospect of establishing a clinic in Houston. In 1951, the three doctors opened the Kelsey-Leary-Seybold Clinic in the Hermann Professional Building. When Leary left the practice to join M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in 1965, the practice was renamed Kelsey-Seybold Clinic.

Kelsey was appointed dean of the UT Postgraduate School of Medicine, which is now the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at the UT Health Science Center. Mary also became involved by serving from 1978-87 on the development board of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston; she was board president from 1980-82. To honor her leadership, in 1983 the development board established the Mary Wilson Kelsey Professorship in Medical Sciences.

At Kelsey-Seybold Clinic, Kelsey not only actively practiced medicine but was the chief of the Department of Occupational Medicine and directed a number of medical contracts for NASA and the U.S. Navy. He also established the Kelsey Research Foundation, which fosters the advancement of medicine by sponsoring medical research and education and has funded hundreds of projects in the Texas Medical Center over the past 50-plus years.

Kelsey was honored in many ways over the years, including being named a Distinguished Alumnus of Texas A&M University and an Ashbel Smith Distinguished Alumnus of The University of Texas Medical School in Galveston.

As one of the original members of the early endocrinology staff at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Kelsey was honored before a lecture named for him was delivered at M.D. Anderson. In May 2009, Kelsey was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award during the Houston Business Journal’s first Health Care Heroes luncheon, part of the publication’s four-day Celebrate Enterprise program of business events.

This information originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle, Nov. 13, 2013.

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