Proud of this Suffolkian

Published 10:03 pm Thursday, January 22, 2015

Starting next month, when the Supreme Court of Virginia meets in Richmond, a resident of Suffolk will be among the seven justices serving on that court. By unanimous vote on Tuesday, the Virginia General Assembly elevated Kelsey from his current seat on the bench for the Virginia Court of Appeals.

Kelsey’s judicial career has been something of a skyrocket, advancing him in only 15 years from Circuit Court judge for the Fifth Judicial Circuit to the highest court in Virginia.

For those who know him, the only surprise about the “promotion” is that it took so long to happen. In fact, Kelsey — a 1978 graduate of Nansemond-Suffolk Academy — has been considered for a seat on the high court twice before, going back to 2008, and the political machinations of the General Assembly last year nearly botched the appointment once again.

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Virginia is the real winner in the deal finally struck this week to appoint a cast of judges to courts ranging from Juvenile and Domestic Relations all the way up to the Supreme Court. The praise for Kelsey seems almost universal. Whether they know him from his time in private practice, from his time in the Fifth Circuit or from his appeals court years, everyone’s first words about him include terms like “integrity” and “intelligence,” “outstanding” and “distinguished.”

Those who know him personally describe a kind, compassionate and considerate family man who exhibits a humility one might not expect from someone who has flown so high in a profession known for fostering hubris.

Kelsey still lives on the same farm his father owned when he was alive, located in one of Suffolk’s smallest and oldest working communities, and he said Tuesday he intends to continue living in that home and keeping his chambers here in Suffolk. That choice is a good one for Suffolk, which — though proud of its native son — would surely be sorry to see him leave.