FAU’s Kelly speaks at Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce


BOCA RATON, FL – Dr. John Kelly, installed in February as the seventh president of Florida Atlantic University, was the guest speaker at July’s membership breakfast of the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce. But neither Kelly nor FAU was the subject of his address. It was Thomas F. Fleming Jr., a former Boca Raton banker and the key driving force behind the establishment of FAU, which marks the 50th anniversary of its opening on September 14. “Sixty years ago, Tom Fleming convinced the town that a former World War II airfield could become a university,” Kelly told the audience. Fleming reported to legislators in Tallahassee and Washington that a postsecondary school would be “something beneficial” to Boca which, at the time, was a community of just 7,000 residents. As it turned out, more than twice that many people flocked to see President Lyndon Johnson dedicate the school in September 1964. President Kelly, who succeeded Mary Jane Saunders as head of the Boca Raton based university, recalled Fleming’s rallying cry: “Open the door in ’64.” “People who shared his dream supported him,” said the new president, and the state legislature, in 1961, appropriated $100,000 to cover start-up expenses. Fleming’s group of grassroots supporters raised $300,000 to pay architects’ fees, salaries and other expenses associated with launching the new university. Fleming himself made the first donation, pledging 1 percent of three years’ worth of the pre-tax earnings of the First Bank and Trust Company of Boca Raton, which he headed. “A $700 million business enterprise developed from that investment,” the new FAU chief said. “And it has had a $6.3 billion impact on the economy.” Kelly said Fleming would be surprised, even astonished, to learn that FAU is now the most diverse university in the state and 27th most diverse in the nation. “He would be surprised that FAU now has a president who tweets,” he said with a laugh, admitting he “didn’t know how to tweet before I came to FAU.” The newly arrived university boss said Fleming would also gasp to know that FAU students “have stated their own recording studio, and that a set of students won ‘X-Factor’ and are now touring Europe. He would be astonished that FAU has a research park, that a bowl game was played on campus and that it has the most beautiful stadium in the nation, with room for 30,000 people to cheer.” To keep Fleming’s dream alive and growing, Kelly vowed that “the relationship between Boca and FAU will never be fractured – only perpetuated.” “Mr. Fleming was very wise to build a school eight miles from the ocean, in a supportive community,” he said. “This relationship will do nothing but grow.”