As executive director of Three Rivers Planning and Development Districts (TRPDD) in Pontotoc, Miss., Vernon “Randy” Kelley III (BBA 70, MURP 72) is no stranger to hard work. A dedicated father and husband, avid turkey hunter and acclaimed public speaker, he approaches life and its obstacles with optimism. And even though he is legally blind he certainly has a clear vision of the future.
In December of 2001 Kelley was diagnosed with Optic Neuritis, a disease that attacks the retina and causes a sudden loss of vision.
“I’m healthy as a goat I just can’t see diddly squat,” said Kelley. “I saw 20/20, at least in one eye, until December 16 [2001}.”
To cope with his illness professionally Kelley relies on his staff, which includes his wife Bonnie, and uses a computer program that scans documents and reads his business and personal information to him.
“I have a computer program I depend on it significantly to stay on top of things,” said Kelley. “And to say that the people who work with me are wonderful is an understatement.”
Since October 1976 Kelley has been the executive director of TRPDD, a non-profit corporation created by eight counties and 35 municipalities. For 30 years he has supervised TRPDD’s operations and was essential in securing an excess of $250 million in grants for local governments. He also oversees the development of multiple partnerships that are influential to TRPDD’s success.
“I am a firm believer that three rivers could never accomplish anything individually,” said Kelley. “With our partners and local governments, economic developers and business leaders, we can accomplish anything.”
Kelley is also a proficient public speaker and often addresses audiences of government officials, businesses or environmental leaders. Since losing his vision Kelley notes that his memory and ability to organize things in his mind has improved significantly.
“I believe firmly that the lord gives you things to help offset and deal with things, as well as the strength to continue,” said Kelley.
But it’s not all work and no play for Kelley. A former member of the Ole Miss Rebels freshman football team, Kelley remains a dedicated fan of Ole Miss athletics listening to football and baseball games.
“I love Ole Miss football,” said Kelley. “I tell David Kellum all the time ‘You’ve got to call this right because you are my eyes’.”
Kelley also enjoys turkey-hunting trips with friends. He doesn’t carry a gun but instead carries good friends to do the shooting while he does the calling. Thanks to a little help from those good friends Kelley bagged a gobbler last year.
“My friends told me, you always called for us, its time for you to shoot,” said Kelley.
Throughout his ordeal Kelley has maintained a strong faith, and uses his business scanner to read and teach Sunday school lessons each week. And though he is not totally blind he still reminisces about the things he cannot see.
“I miss seeing my wife and kids and granddaughters faces. I miss being able to see the songs and sing in church,” said Kelley. “And obviously I miss seeing Ole Miss football.”
All in all Kelley feels that what some would consider a disability is just a small bump in the road.
“Early on, my wife and I were going to the doctor and I said I was glad to go,” said Kelley. “Every once in a while I need to go see folks that really have a problem to understand how blessed and lucky I am. There are so many people who have more hurdles in life.”
Though he does not call himself an ambitious man, Kelley has dedicated his life to improving the lives of others and their communities. His hard work, constant perseverance and optimistic attitude have given many, including himself, a renewed chance at life.
“One of my greatest goals in life is to make a difference in people’s lives,” said Kelley.
Kelley and his wife, Bonnie, currently reside in Tupelo. They have two daughters, one granddaughter and a loyal yellow lab named Lexie.