John Kelton Leaves Legacy of Steadfast Service to College and Community

Dana Professor Emeritus of Psychology John D. Kelton ‘51, a man whose energy and heartfelt dedication benefited town and gown for five decades, died Nov. 2 at age 86.

A service honoring his life will be held Thursday, Nov. 7, at 3 p.m. at Davidson College Presbyterian Church. The family will receive friends after the service at The Congregation House. A visitation also will be held at The Pines at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 6.

He was born on Sept. 15, 1927, the son of Floyd Max Kelton and Mary Hume Kelton in Mt. Pleasant, Tenn., and grew up in Florida. He graduated from Plant High School in Tampa in 1945.

He enrolled at Davidson College in 1946 for two weeks, whereupon he was drafted into the Army and served for 13 months.  In the fall of 1947 he re-entered Davidson and became an outstanding student athlete, scholar and leader. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa, and was elected into the Omicron Delta Kappa and Sigma Xi honor societies. He also served as president of Sigma Chi fraternity, was a member of The Court of Control, the ‘Y’ cabinet, the ‘D’ Club, and was captain of the wrestling team.

Upon graduation in 1951, he received a Morehead scholarship for graduate study in psychology at UNC Chapel Hill. There he met Paula Abernethy, and they were married June 26, 1954, in Lenoir, NC.

He was mentored at UNC by one of psychology’s psychometric legends, L.L. Thurstone, and earned his doctorate in experimental psychology in 1956.

He taught at UNC Chapel Hill and at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, then returned to Davidson in 1959 as a professor of psychology.

In 1963 Kelton became director of the college’s Richardson Scholars program, which brought international students to campus. That experience made him a natural for the college’s expedition to Southeast Asia in 1971. It was Kelton, ever the punster, who dubbed the group of 15 on that trip as “the herd shot round the world.”

In addition to teaching students in the classroom, he graciously accepted and successfully completed a plethora of important assignments. He was associate dean and chair pro-tem of the faculty, chair of the psychology department from 1970-1985, and was active on more than two-dozen college committees. From 1970-1976 he directed Davidson’s North Carolina Fellows leadership training program, and he chaired the steering committee for a decennial Self-Study. He was executive assistant to the president, directed the office of institutional research, and administered the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts. He retired in 1997.

Kelton shaped The Town of Davidson with his leadership role in the Davidson-Cornelius Day Care Community, the Ada Jenkins Center, the Davidson Town Library and The Pines Retirement Community.  He was an elder in Davidson College Presbyterian Church. His generosity came from his sense of community service. He once explained, “Where there are good things that need doing, folks should become involved.  I see things that look interesting and worthwhile and feel I have a contribution to make.”

He was honored for his service with the college’s Thomas Jefferson Award in 1980, and the town’s G. Jackson Burney award which he shared with his wife in 2008.  The psychology department honored him by creating the John D. Kelton Award for students, which honors the best essay written in a senior capstone course in psychology. A classroom in Chambers Building bears his name.

For the past 11 years Kelton and his wife Paula lived at The Pines in Davidson.  He is survived by his wife and their three children—David Kelton (Bunny),  Cissy Kelton Byrd (Rich), and Mary Kelton Bridges (Byron); grandchildren Sara Kelton Brelie (Matt), Laura Kelton, Nathan Byrd, Taylor Byrd, Andrew Byrd, Michael Byrd and John Bridges; one great grandson, Kelton Brelie; two sisters: Mary Kelton Grisso (Lee) and Ann Kelton Krotchko (David).

Memorials may be made to The Pines Resident Fund, 400 Avinger Lane, Davidson, N.C. 28036; or Davidson College Presbyterian Church, PO Box 337, Davidson, N.C. 28036, or Davidson College, PO Box 7177, Davidson, N.C. 28035.