By Michelle Bradford
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - August 6, 2006
ROGERS - Gene Kelley got word at 6 a.m. that a birth mother in eastern Arkansas wanted to talk. An early riser, Kelley was already in his Rogers law office, anticipating the day. With an adoption suddenly in motion, Kelley cleared his calendar and called his clients, a Fayetteville couple who desperately wanted a child. He climbed into his voice-activated Acura and headed for Interstate 540.
On the road, he thought about all he'd accomplished since coming to Arkansas 45 years ago. For starters, he earned a law degree from the University Of Arkansas School Of Law - not too bad for a New Jersey boy who used to think Lake Ouachita started with a "W." He married the love of his life, Joye, a Fayetteville native, and together they reared five successful children. Most of them have master's degrees; three of them are lawyers. Over the years, Gene Kelley helped several powerful Democrats get elected and worked to charter banks across the state. He was the executive secretary to former U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers when Bumpers was governor.
At 67, Kelley's now a sought-after adoption lawyer who has placed more than 700 children into loving homes, many in Northwest Arkansas. Last year, he was one of three from Arkansas to receive Angels in Adoption Awards from the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute in Washington. Each Christmas, he and his wife receive hundreds of cards from grateful adoptive parents. In east Arkansas that day, Kelley did what an adoption lawyer does best. He guided a birth mother and an adoptive couple through a roller coaster of emotions and a delicate legal process that ended with the signing of adoption papers.
Driving back to Rogers that night, Kelley stopped near the Bobby Hopper Tunnel and stretched his legs. The day left him exhausted and exhilarated. At that moment, he looked up at the Ozarks sky to give pause. Kelley's work is seldom easy, and he feels he's at the top of his game. "No one will be where I am," he says. "I have no competition."
Nothing Fazes Him
Connie Hendrix-Kral and her husband, Tim, sought Kelley's help in adopting a child in 1994. Kelley came highly recommended, and Hendrix-Kral had a cousin in Florida who'd adopted through him. The couple was 23rd on a waiting list when Kelley called with some news. "Gene said a Texas couple was giving up their one-month-old baby," Hendrix-Kral recalls. "We raced over and waited for hours and hours. Then, Gene started getting conflicting information, and he said, 'My advice is you pull out.' We agreed. It was right before Thanksgiving. I closed the door to my nursery. It was very, very painful. You just want a baby so bad."