Guardian of the Discipline – “Lucie S. Kelly: A nurse’s nurse who held us all accountable for being better, doing better”

Marion Broome, PhD, RN, FAAN,
Editor Nursing Outlook, 2003-present

When I entered nursing in 1973, Lucie Kelly, PhD, RN, FAAN was already a well-respected scholar and leader in the field. Lucie obtained all 3 degrees from the University of Pittsburg: her BSN in 1947, a masters in nursing education in 1957 and a PhD in Higher Education in 1965. When she died on November 19, 2020 Dr. Kelly had left her impression on so many of us- nurses in practice, academe and in professional associations.  She held many leadership positions, such as Vice-President of Nursing, Chair and Professor, President of Sigma Theta Tau International,  as well as an academic dean in schools of nursing and public health. She was selected as a Living Legend in the American Academy of Nursing…. Such an apt and befitting title! Finally, her 6 (yes 6!) honorary doctorates speak volumes about her accomplishments as a scholar and leader in nursing. 

Lucie S. Kelly (source)

But here is what I remember about Dr. Lucie Kelly: she was a woman with ‘her own mind’ (not an exceptionally common thing said of most women in the mid-1900s). And she didn’t hesitate to share her ideas with others. Lucie Kelly spoke and wrote about everyday beliefs and practices of nurses across the profession- practice and education. Lucie was editor of Nursing Outlook for several years in the late 1980s.  As an assistant and associate professor I loved reading her editorials then. Lucie Kelly was always questioning existing myths and urban legends in the field. She would often ask readers ‘why’ AND ‘why not’?  For instance, in her editorial in the May-June Nursing Outlook issue of 1988 of Dr. Kelly shared her belief that nurse administrators ought to reach out to those young nurses who hold promise………. “who dare to bang on their doors with confidence and talent” and to groom them for leadership. To not turn them away as ‘too inexperienced, too young’.  She believed it was their mentoring and belief in these young nurses that would lead to the “biggest payoff for all: a stronger future for nursing in the image of the pioneers who dared”.


On that same theme in another issue (Kelly, 1991), Dr. Kelly talked about “The Conundrum of Leadership” and shared her observation about the ‘recycling of the same leaders in nursing’ who were often invited to and assumed positions of influence and powers across many of the professional associations. Of course, she shared, these individuals were the experienced ones, the ‘proven’ ones who people knew and elected. Lucie asked readers to think about that as a viable strategy for leadership longer term or a way to infuse new thinking into the field at a time when it was so sorely needed.  

So many of the issues Lucie wrote about in her editorials are still very real today and deserve ongoing reflection and commentary by contemporary leaders.. That is, just how do we not just encourage but embrace young leaders! How do we make sure we sponsor our emerging leaders in key areas so they can expand their skills and spread their wings. Lucie Kelly’s written words reflected someone who was a wise sage in the field and yet still so ‘young at heart’ and still so willing to embrace those starting out and who stood out as future leaders and scholars.

And she didn’t just write about such. Many of her mentees have shared with me over the years how much faith she had in them and how that made all the difference in their career success.

What stuck me and so many others about Lucie Kelly was her smile and her sense of style which reflected her energy and timeliness, her laughter when with good colleagues and friends. So many of us who did have any opportunity to interact with, listen to, read about, and observe (as young leaders always do) will not just remember what Lucie Kelly said but how she made us feel….like we could spread our wings, could make a difference in our chosen field and maybe, just maybe ‘look and sound like’ Lucie Kelly one day.

Kelly, L. (1988). Calculated risk” Big Payoff.  Nursing Outlook, 36(3), 25.

Kelly, L. (1991).The conundrum of recycled leadership. Nursing Outlook, 39 (1), 5.

2 thoughts on “Guardian of the Discipline – “Lucie S. Kelly: A nurse’s nurse who held us all accountable for being better, doing better”

  1. What a privilege it was to participate in the Sigma Theta Tau Study Tour to Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong in the summer of 1984, which was led by Lucie Kelly, Vernice Ferguson, and Sr. Rosemary Donley. All three of them were generous in providing one-on-one mentorship to participants who sought it.

  2. Lucie Kelly helped me get my first publication. I attending a Sigma conference while I was still in my Nursing master’s program. In her presentation, she invited first time authors (would-be authors) to send manuscript publication inquiries directly to her. I did…and the rest is history :). Yes, my first publication was a paper from my nursing theories course in my master’s program and it was published in Nursing Outlook. The title was something like “Support as Legitimate Nursing Action” (if you’re familiar with Orem’s SCDNT, you probably recognize the language. I was fortunate to attend a school that had a nursing theory as the basis for the curriculum framework.

Leave a Reply