Leslie Dorris Kelly Jr.
May 10, 1923 – December 24, 2018
KELLY, LESLIE DORRIS (Capt,USN,retd) NASHVILLE - Leslie Dorris Kelly, Jr., business leader and pioneer in the development of nuclear submarines, died peacefully on December 24, 2018, at age 95.
Proud to be a native Nashvillian, Dorris was born on May 10,1923. He was the only child of Louise Hancock Kelly and Leslie Dorris Kelly, Sr., who predeceased him. He grew up near and attended Parmer School on Leake Avenue in what was then considered “the countryside.” He remembered proudly manning a lemonade stand there with childhood friends Frank Blair and Irwin Eskind while cows grazed nearby.
Dorris was the third generation of his family to attend Montgomery Bell Academy, where he excelled at sports and was recognized as an All-State football player. He graduated in 1941 and remained an avid fan of MBA and its athletic programs all his life. He bought all his grandchildren, regardless of gender, MBA sweatshirts shortly after their births.
From MBA, Dorris attended Vanderbilt University as a freshman but left after he was appointed to the United States Naval Academy, where he graduated in 1945 toward the end of World War II. He first served on the warship USS Atlanta off the coast of Japan as the war came to an end.
Having volunteered to serve on submarines, he quickly gained a reputation as an outstanding diving officer. In the fall of 1950, Dorris (known as Les in the Navy) was selected by Admiral Hyman Rickover as one of the first two officers in the new nuclear submarine program just being developed. He was the Operating Officer and Chief Engineer for the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear submarine. He worked for three years in Pittsburgh and the desert of Idaho developing a prototype for the first nuclear power reactor. At the time, the construction of the atomic sub was described by engineers as ‘the most difficult feat ever attempted by American technology.” The job was so complex, it was expected to take decades to complete.
The Nautilus was launched in 1953 at a much publicized christening ceremony attended by First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. The sub’s first journey lasted three years and broke numerous records for speed and endurance. After the Nautilus, Dorris became Commander of the USS Trigger and accompanied the Nautilus to the North Pole, where it became the first nuclear sub to submerge under packed ice. He also served on the USS Triton, then the world’s largest nuclear submarine, where he was awarded the Navy and Marine Corp Medal for reentering a sealed reactor compartment to save the life of an injured crewman after the cooling system ruptured, filling the compartment with scalding steam.
As Commander of the USS Skipjack, the newest and fastest nuclear submarine, he was ordered to shadow Soviet submarines during the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963. His family had no idea where he was for months because of the secretive nature of his work.
After attending the National War College and achieving the rank of Captain, his next tour of duty was working for the Secretary of the Navy at the Pentagon, assigning nuclear-trained officers to submarines and evaluating the submarine and anti-submarine programs being proposed by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
In 1968, after deciding to retire, he was awarded the Legion of Merit for his service to the Navy.
Later that year, he moved back to Nashville, where he held executive leadership positions at Performance Systems, Inc., Winner Boats, and Pep Industries, Inc. He retired as President of Pep Industries in 1987, having overseen the rapid growth of the automotive supplier to nine manufacturing locations and 2500 employees. During his retirement, he worked as a consultant for Alcoa-Fujikura Ltd after they acquired Pep Industries.
Dorris was an avid golfer and spent many happy hours on the golf course at the Belle Meade Country Club, especially with his grandsons. He was an honorary member of the Economic Club of Nashville and a former member of the Linville Golf Club. He attended First Presbyterian Church.
Always a gentleman, he will be remembered for being goodnatured,humble, driven, and disarmingly frank.
He is preceded in death by his wife, Peggy Fox Kelly, and his first wife, Nancy Humphreys Kelly. He is survived by two sons and their wives: Owen and Ann Kelly and Mark and Mary Herbert Kelly; as well as four grandchildren and their spouses: Sinclair Kelly, MacLaren Kelly and Beth Heaney, Anna Russell and Christopher Friedman, and Mark Kelly, Jr. and Kelly March, and two great grandchildren, Knox and Cole Friedman. He also leaves behind stepchildren Linda and Lem Montgomery, Lily Moberly,and Ladye and Kevin Berry.
The family would like to thank all the caring staff at Woodcrest Nursing Facility at Blakeford, especially Richard Irving, Dolores Walker, Jennifer Irving, Daisy Hawkins, and Lisa Hendry.
Visitation with the family will be held at home, 3811 Richland Avenue, in Nashville from 1:00 to 3:00 pm on Saturday, January 5, 2019. A family service will take place earlier in the day at Mount Olivet Cemetery with Rev. Dr. Todd B. Jones officiating.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Dorris’s memory to Montgomery Bell Academy, 4001 Harding Road, Nashville, TN 37205, or to Alive Hospice, 1718 Patterson Street, Nashville, TN 37203.
Saturday, January 5, 2019
Leslie Dorris Kelly Jr.
January 14, 2019
Sons of Cpt. Kelly,
As an ET2 SS I served during Cpt Kelly's command of Trigger. As my duty station was in the attack center next to the periscope station I had close contact with him. I will always remember him for this calm control of any situation the boat faced and his likewise relationship with all the crew. He was admired and respected for his leadership by all the crew.