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APB Multimedia Online,
“John Kelso Jr. Oversees the Skeletons in the Nation's Closet”
Nov. 22, 1999, By Tami Sheheri
An article featured in the Summer 2007 issue of Allegheny Magazine
By Katie Moller Jaeger ‘79
At the 50th Reunion you will have an opportunity to hear John describe his role in the investigation of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland on December 21, 1988 when 270 people died.
From the Summer 2007 issue of Allegheny Magazine:
Following the Columbine tragedy, some of the student victims said it happened because “nobody listens to us,” a youthful sentiment echoed across the country. Twice a week, John Kelso and other Kiwanis volunteers decided to do something about that. They established and manned a “Listening Post” at South Brunswick (North Carolina) Middle School, where they provided an understanding and tolerant place for kids to talk about their concerns.
John also takes part in an innovative criminal justice system known as Teen Court. If a youth aged twelve to eighteen breaks either the criminal code or school rules, the local district attorney or school principal may direct the case to Teen Court. Here, a real-life adult judge or attorney presides, but all other participants are teens.
Kelso serves as an attorney mentor, advising the teens handling the defense or prosecution, while other Kiwanis members supervise jury deliberations. “Some of these kids plan to move into careers in the justice system,” says Kelso. “They take the process very seriously and hand down fair sentences having the same weight as verdicts in a juvenile court. Penalties imposed may be hours of community service, attendance at future teen court sessions, letters of apology to victims, and so forth. Most of the defendants do not return to crime—this exposure to a justice system they can respect is often all it takes to set them straight.” If the defendant completes all aspects of the jury’s verdict they do not have any criminal record.
John Kelso graduated from Allegheny in 1966 with a degree in history and then went on to the University of Pittsburgh, School of Law, and received his law degree in 1969. After passing the bar exam and going to work for a Pittsburgh law firm, John soon realized that there would be little challenge for him as a freshman lawyer. So he decided to try the FBI.
As a Special Agent in the FBI, he found a real sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. His primary areas of investigation were domestic and international terrorism. He also was a trained hostage negotiator.
Kelso worked on cases such as the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing, the theft of military property from Camp Pendleton in the 1980s, the kidnapping of Patty Hearst and some gruesome killings of police officers.
Late in his career John became the section chief of the FBI's Freedom of Information/Privacy Act (FOIA/PA) office… in charge of well over 500 employees. Under John’s supervision, the office had the job of determining which of the Bureau's enormous collection of files could be released -- or kept confidential. Thus he became known in the media as “the man who keeps the FBI’s secrets.”
After working for the Bureau for 32 years, John retired in 2002 at the Senior Executive Service level.
On the personal front…. John married his wife Lydia in 1967 and they are the proud parents of twin sons, Glenn and Mark, who are both Commanders in the U. S. Navy. They have three grandchildren.
With retirement came little rest… but rather fulltime service to his community:
At the United Methodist Church: Lay Leader, Chairman of the Church Council, Chairman of the Safe Sanctuary Committee, and sings tenor in the church choir, rings handbells, plays clarinet in the orchestra
Former president of the Alumni Council at Allegheny
Former president of the Southport/Oak Island Kiwanis Club
Former volunteer fireman and fire policeman
Plays clarinet in the Brunswick Concert Band and the Wilmington Symphonic Winds
Sings tenor in the Sea Notes Choral Society
Former president of the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI
In his spare time John plays golf and tennis.