G. Lombard Kelly served as dean and president of the Medical College of Georgia (later Georgia Health Sciences University) from the 1930s to the early 1950s, an era of growth for the institution and political challenges to its continued existence in Augusta.
George Lombard Kelly was born on October 8, 1890, in Augusta, a few blocks down the street from where the Georgia Health Sciences University administration building named in his honor now stands. Kelly spent his boyhood in Augusta, where his father was a railroad engineer. He graduated with distinction from the Academy of Richmond County in 1907 and the University of Georgia in 1911. He entered the Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1911, but the first of several serious illnesses led to his withdrawal during the fall term. After he had recovered, he taught science and Latin in high schools in Georgia and North Carolina. He married his first wife, Adeline Mina Weatherly, in 1913. In 1914 he entered the Medical Department of the University of Georgia (later Georgia Health Sciences University), but illness once again forced him to interrupt his studies.
After years of teaching and newspaper reporting, and the death of his wife in 1918, Kelly volunteered for officer training, but the end of World War I (1917-18) resulted in cancellation of his service. He then spent four years instructing anatomy while studying medicine at the School of Medicine, followed by two years devoted solely to his studies, and received his M.D. degree in 1924.
In 1920 Kelly married his second wife, Ina Melle Todd Hoffman, a widow with a three-year-old daughter. The couple subsequently had a daughter in 1925 and a son in 1931. After medical school Kelly served a year-long internship in Augusta and then spent the following year as city physician. He left Augusta the next year to become a research assistant at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York, where his work included collaboration with Dr. George N. Papanicolau, developer of the Pap smear. In 1927 he returned to the Medical Department of the University of Georgia as an associate professor of anatomy. Two years later he became head of the department and then acting dean in 1934 and dean in 1935.
Kelly’s principal task during his first years as dean was to regain the school’s accreditation, which had been withdrawn in 1934 by the American Medical Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges. At that time the school faced being closed or moved to Atlanta. He set out to build the finest faculty possible, recruiting superior professionals in the United States and Canada; to increase the volume and quality of research; and to establish new departments and enlarge the school. Thanks primarily to his efforts, the school’s accreditation was restored in 1937. From 1936 to 1941 Kelly served both as dean of the medical school and as superintendent of University Hospital, a position he had pursued with the goal of achieving optimum conditions for students performing clinical work there.
In January 1944 Kelly was granted leave of absence from the school to spend six months as the first executive secretary of the newly established Council on Medical Service and Public Relations of the American Medical Association in Chicago.
While superintendent of University Hospital and in the years that followed, Kelly was faced with harmful political interference in the operation of the hospital; by 1945 its management had fallen to an unacceptable level. Kelly devoted considerable energy during these times to resolving serious problems in relations with the city of Augusta and to improving the hospital. By the fall of 1945 the situation at University Hospital was much improved.
In the 1940s Kelly had striven for the medical school to become an independent entity within the University System of Georgia; in 1950 this change was approved. The Medical Department of the University of Georgia became the Medical College of Georgia, and Kelly’s title changed from dean to president. In 1951 another of Kelly’s related goals was achieved when the Georgia legislature approved construction of the Medical College of Georgia’s own hospital.
Kelly retired from the Medical College of Georgia in 1953, becoming president emeritus. He spent a few years in private practice, specializing in marital relations and related health problems, a field in which he had published a number of successful books. After closing his practice in 1960, he served for several years as medical advisor to the Veterans Administration office in Columbia, South Carolina.
An avid writer since his medical school days, Kelly wrote short stories, children’s stories, and news articles, and he collaborated with other professionals on numerous medical papers. Kelly died on October 24, 1972, of arteriosclerosis. He was buried at Westover Memorial Cemetery in Augusta.