May 25, 2019
Alec John “Jack” Kelso died at Frasier Meadows retirement community on May 25, 2019. He was preceded in death by his wife, Mary Kelso. He is survived by his two children, Colette and Bill, three grandchildren, Lara, Rye, and AJ, and by one great-grandchild, June Dylan Wallace. Kelso had a distinguished career as a scholar, teacher, mentor, and administrator.
Kelso received his PhD in anthropology at the University of Michigan in 1958 and was appointed as an instructor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU Boulder) that same year. He remained on the faculty until his retirement as a full professor in 1996. He was an innovative teacher both in his home department and beyond. Shortly after joining the faculty, he developed a two-semester introductory course in physical anthropology that laid the foundation for the department’s program in physical anthropology. Kelso also published a textbook developed from the course titled Physical Anthropology: An Introduction (1974). It was one of the first of its kind and became popular in departments of anthropology across the country.
Kelso was an innovator beyond the classroom. He obtained funding from the National Science Foundation to support of a program of summer institutes at CU Boulder offered between 1961 and 1970. Each summer about 30 college-level instructors in anthropology attended a program designed to improve their instruction in all four fields of the discipline. They attended lectures by eminent anthropologists whom Kelso invited from around the country. Beyond their important contribution to anthropology programs across the United States, these institutes enhanced the reputation of the CU Boulder department.
Kelso’s research was in the forefront of what has come to be known as the “new physical anthropology.” Although trained primarily in physical anthropology at the University of Michigan, he was also strongly influenced by Leslie White. The result was a career-long interest in the role of cultural evolution in the biological evolution of human populations. His work on genetics, morphology, and the ABO blood groups helped lay the foundation for what is today known as a biocultural approach to human evolution. Kelso’s holistic approach to anthropology led to his last major publication, an edited collection of senior anthropologists’ reflections on their discipline, The Tao of Anthropology (2008).
Kelso was also a skilled administrator with a strong sense of service. He served three terms, totaling 12 years, as chair of his department. He served as acting assistant to the chancellor at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs (1974–75) and as vice chancellor for academic affairs on the Colorado Springs campus (1975–77). He was also the first chair-elect of the Biological Anthropology Section of the American Anthropological Association.
In recognition of his many contributions to teaching, research, and service, Kelso received the Boulder Faculty Assembly Teaching Excellence Award in 1986 and was named a President’s Teaching Scholar in 1990. In 1996 he received the Hazel Barnes Award, the most prestigious award for teaching and research at CU Boulder.
Beyond his many academic accomplishments, Kelso will always be remembered as a cherished mentor, friend, and colleague. He understood that being kind was often more important than being smart. Jack’s friends, colleagues, and students will always remember him for that. (Darna L. Dufour, Dennis Van Gerven, David Greene, Paul Shankman)
Cite as: Dufour, Darna L., Dennis Van Gerven, David Greene, Paul Shankman. 2019. “Alec John “Jack” Kelso.” Anthropology News website, June 28, 2019. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1202