Mavis P. Kelsey, M.D.
Co-Founder of the Kelsey-Seybold Clinic

Co-founder of the Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. Gifted physician. Visonary leader. Philanthropist. Writer. Historian. Art Collector. Mentor. Husband. Father. Grandfather. Great grandfather

These are only some of the words that describe Mavis P. Kelsey, who changed how medical care was delivered to Texans through his creation of what would become the Kelsey-Seybold Clinic in more than 20 locations throughout the Houston area. The first of its kind in this region, Dr. Kelsey’s brainchild has served as a model for bringing specialists, general practitioners, nurses and other caregivers together as a cohesive team to provide the best possible service to patients and their families.

Born on October 7, 1912, in Deport, Texas, Dr. Kelsey came to medicine by both lineage and interest. Two great great uncles (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 truly inspired young Mavis. By age 10, he knew he wanted a career in medicine. In 1932, having graduated from Texas A&M at only 19 years of age, he arrived at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

Dr. J.B. KelseyThe faculty under whom Mavis Kelsey studied are integral threads in the fabric of UTMB’s rich history: Dr. Edward Randall, Dr. Marvin Graves and Dr. Seth Morris (all members of the original faculty); anatomist Dr. Harry O. Knight; pathologist Dr. Paul Brindley; surgeon Dr. Albert O. Singleton; and Dr. Titus Harris, who created the Department of Neurology and Psychiatry. Dr. Truman Blocker, who would become a nationally renowned plastic surgeon and the first person to be named president of UTMB, was a friend and schoolmate.

Dr. Kelsey graduated from medical school in 1936, a time when the death rate from infectious disease was 40 percent and a revolutionary treatment using the new sulfa drugs had been used at Johns Hopkins to successfully treat infections. During his internship at Bellevue Hospital in New York, the young Dr. Kelsey participated in a study to determine the new drug’s effectiveness against a fatal streptococcus infection. The drug proved successful, and Dr. Kelsey’s name appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association as co-author on his first professional article.

Despite his success in New York, Dr. Kelsey longed to return to Texas. He accepted an offer to return to UTMB as an instructor in pathology, making 10 times his $15-a-week intern’s salary.

A young Dr. Mavis KelseyBut it wasn’t long before Dr. Kelsey was on the move again. He had read extensively about the Mayo Clinic and the groundbreaking work being done there. Dr. Brindley’s brother, Dr. George Brindley, offered the young physician a deal: If Dr. Kelsey would come to Temple, Texas, to work at the Scott and White Hospital for a year, Dr. Brindley would see to it that he could serve a residency at Mayo. During his year in Temple, Dr. Kelsey met his future wife, Mary Randolph Wilson, and discovered a love for collecting Texas historical memorabilia. (Parts of the Kelseys’ extensive collection can now be seen in more than 20 museums and the Texas A&M University library.)

By 1939, he was headed to Rochester, Minnesota, for what was planned to be a three-year fellowship in internal medicine. As happened with so many young men of the day, World War II interrupted his plans. Dr. Kelsey was called to serve out his ROTC commitment and joined the Air Force in 1941. After completing training at the School of Aviation Medicine in San Antonio, he was stationed at the Aleutian Islands, where he served as flight surgeon for a fighter command. He then served as editor-in-chief of the medical journal of the Air Force, for which he was awarded the Legion of Merit in 1945.

After the war he returned to the Mayo Clinic and began studying the thyroid and radioactive iodine, work that produced numerous journal articles. Upon completing his medical training and receiving a Master of Science degree in internal medicine from the University of Minnesota Mayo Foundation in 1947, Dr. Kelsey was appointed to the Mayo Clinic staff and began planning to make a life in Rochester.

His work at the Mayo Clinic reinforced his long-held belief that patients would be better served by one group of physicians working together, facilitating referrals, using the same medical record to foster continuity of care, and adding specialties as medicine evolved. He began discussing the idea with his Rochester colleagues, but finally realized that he wanted to return to Texas with his growing family. He arrived in Houston in January 1949, setting up a solo practice but keeping his vision of a broad-based group practice alive. Dr. Kelsey also became a staff member at 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.

By 1951 he, along with Dr. William Seybold and Dr. William Leary, formed a clinic that would one day fulfill Dr. Kelsey’s dream of providing a comprehensive array of services in a patient-centered environment. After a series of staff and name changes, in 1965 the organization was christened as the now-famous Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. Along the way, he also co-founded the Kelsey Research Foundation, which has funded hundreds of projects in the Texas Medical Center over the past 50 years.

In 1966 the clinic became the first contract medical service provider for NASA and continues to serve the agency to this day. However, Dr. Kelsey’s most important contribution to the delivery of health care was the promotion of branch clinics. Today’s Kelsey-Seybold Clinic—which has been a unit of St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital System in the Texas Medical Center since 2000—operates more than 20 neighborhood health center branches in the Houston area, increasing access to quality health services for residents of the nation’s fourth-largest city and serving as a model for other group practices.

In 1986 Dr. Kelsey retired from the clinic, but he remains an active member of the Houston and medical communities. In 1987 the Kelsey-Seybold Clinic honored him by creating the Mavis P. Kelsey, M.D., Excellence in Medicine Award, given to a fourth-year UTMB student in the top 10 percent of his or her class. UTMB awarded him its highest alumni honor, the Ashbel Smith Distinguished Alumnus Award, in 1987. And he has continued to serve on UTMB’s Development Board as an emeritus member. His passion for writing continues, and he has published numerous books on genealogy, history, medicine and art.

Through his lifetime of service and his visionary spirit, Dr. Mavis Kelsey has changed our expectations of what medicine can offer to individuals and, by extension, to society as a whole. We are all better off for his efforts.

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