Alexandria Ben Kellom knew how to get things done. With 29 years of active-duty military service, he was an effective leader who also knew how to bring out the best in people. Those leadership skills made him a stalwart of the Alexandria Democratic party and respected leader in the community. On Sept. 10, Kellom died following a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 90 years old.
“Ben really enjoyed working with people,” said Susan Kellom, his wife of 47 years. “He also liked to spice things up, to draw people out and make a conversation interesting. He was a great conversationalist and an excellent, excellent listener.”
Bernard Keenan Kellom Jr. was born June 27, 1931, in Bangor, Maine, to Bernard Keenan Kellom Sr. and Bernadette Mathieu. He was raised in Penacook, N.H., where he graduated from high school.
In 1949, he enlisted in the United States Army, serving 29 years of active duty including a deployment to Vietnam. He rose through the ranks and retired as a lieutenant colonel.
“Ben loved serving in the army,” said Ron Rigby, a longtime friend and Democratic colleague. “He was highly respected and well loved. He was also funny, charming and had strong opinions. But he stated them effectively and was always a man of great character.”
Kellom attended the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and Missouri’s Saint Benedict’s College where he studied social science.
He met his wife Susan in 1971 while serving in Seoul.
“We were both on active duty at the time,” said Susan Kellom, who was a U.S. Army military police officer.
Stateside, Kellom served as a signal corps officer in Fort Gordon, Ga., while Susan Kellom went to recruiting duty in Louisville, Ky.
“I spent my weekends flying between Louisville and Augusta,” said Susan Kellom. “Thankfully Delta Airlines had a great military fare and I got to know the airport personnel well.”
The couple were married in 1974 and Susan Kellom eventually transferred to Fort Gordon before the two were transferred to Louisiana’s Fort Polk. In 1978, Kellom was transferred to the military personnel center in Arlington.
“We lived in Burke when we first came to the area since we could not afford Old Town,” Susan Kellom said. “But when Ben retired and took a job in defense contracting, we were finally able to make the move to Alexandria in 1983 and we have been here ever since.”
Kellom was a member of the Commission on Aging and had a goal that never came to fruition.
“Ben was determined to have the city get rid of the cobblestone sidewalks,” said Susan Kellom with a laugh. “But that never happened.”
In addition to his wife Susan, survivors include children Janet McMahon, Theresa Ann Kellom, and Bernard C. Kellom, all from a first marriage to Irene Grieger that ended in divorce. He was predeceased by an infant daughter, Theresa Kellom, and son, Michael J. Kellom.
A celebration of life will be held Saturday, Sept. 18, at the Kellom home, 719 S. Fairfax St., from 3-6 p.m. Burial at Arlington National Cemetery will take place at a later date.
“Ben met and accepted people easily and made long-term friends quickly,” Rigby said. “He was short of stature but tall of character. In the military you become an officer by an act of Congress. But just by being himself, Ben was a true officer and a gentleman. We will miss him.”