Skip to main content

Dr Kelsey

True Stories & Facts About Dr. Kelsey

Few people have accomplished as much as Dr. Mavis P. Kelsey, who changed how medical care was delivered to Texans through his small office in the Texas Medical Center that would later become the Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. Here is a compilation of fascinating and little known facts about our founder, a legend in medicine. Texans through his small office in the Texas Medical Center that would later become the Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. Here is a compilation of fascinating and little known facts about our founder, a legend in medicine.



Mavis Parrott Kelsey, Sr., M.D., was born in Deport, Texas, on October 7, 1912, to John Roger and Bonita Kelsey, followed by sisters Mary Virginia (1914), Elizabeth Lillian (1916) and John Roger Jr. (1922). He was named after his mother’s girlfriend and college roommate, Mavis Graham, who saved his mother’s life in college when her nightgown caught fire. Mavis grabbed a blanket, throwing it around Bonita and forcing her to the floor to smother the fire. When Bonita’s mother learned of this, she said that Bonita’s firstborn child should be named Mavis.



When it came time to go to college, Dr. Kelsey’s family wanted him to go to The University of Texas. They even had him registered there and got him a room in the dormitory. But there was a boy in town who attended A&M and returned home wearing the A&M uniform, which impressed Dr. Kelsey. From that day on, he wanted to go to A&M.


Mayo Clinic Friendships

The most important Texas friends Mavis and Mary had while at the Mayo Clinic were Bill and Frances Seybold. The Kelseys had a great time with the Seybolds. Dr. Kelsey and Dr. Seybold were interested in the flora of Minnesota, plants they had never seen in Texas. They went to the woods every chance they had and learned to identify all the common trees, bushes and wildflowers. They collected the uncommon ones and spent hours studying botany keys identifying them.

Dr. Kelsey also became close friends with another future partner: Dr. William V. Leary. Dr. Leary passed the American Board of Internal Medicine examination and became a board-certified internist while on duty in World War II, even before completing his Fellowship – the only person Dr. Kelsey ever knew to become board-certified in a specialty before completing residency training.


Heart Surgeon Friends

Dr. Michael DeBakey came to Houston a few months before Dr. Kelsey. They were friends and sent patients to each other. Soon after Dr. Kelsey came to Houston, Dr. Denton Cooley came to town to enter practice as an associate of Dr. DeBakey. Dr. Cooley’s mother was one of Dr. Kelsey’s patients.


A Different Houston

In 1949, Houston had a population of 900,000 people. There was a one-room country schoolhouse at Westheimer and Post Oak where Neiman-Marcus is today. Land was only $1,000 an acre where the Galleria is today. The Rice Hotel was the social and commercial center of Houston. The Lamar Hotel was the most distinguished address. The Gulf and Mellie Espersen Buildings were the tallest in town. The only fast food chains in Houston were The Pig Stand and Kentucky Fried Chicken. There was no pizza in Houston. You made your own. Actually, there were few restaurants. People took most of their meals at home.


Memorable Patients

There are always patients you will never forget. One that Dr. Kelsey remembered well was the “Purple Lady.” She was a very wealthy elderly woman. She liked purple and had fun making everything purple. She came to the clinic in a purple Cadillac. Her hair was purple, her fingernails and toenails were purple. She said all the furnishings in her house were purple. She was always in a good humor and liked to be kidded about being the “Purple Lady.”

There many famous patients at the clinic, including nobility from the oil-rich countries of Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, the Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The clinic had the largest Latin American practice in the country in the mid-’60s. The only competitors who came close were the Oschner Clinic and Mayo Clinic. As many as a thousand patients a month came from Mexico. Flight attendants called the Sunday night Pam Am flight from Mexico City to Houston “the Kelsey-Seybold Special.”

Several movie stars were patients. The first one Dr. Kelsey cared for was Roy Rogers. Others were senators, congressmen, governors and judges. There were industry leaders and socialites. Many important Texas citizens were regular patients. It became fashionable for the wealthy and famous to undergo a thorough annual examination at our clinic. Among the many patients Dr. Kelsey admired and made friends with were Governor William P. Hobby, Ernie Cockrell, Congressman and Mrs. Albert Thomas, Senator Lloyd Bentsen and Governor John Connally.


Medical Advancements

During the 50 years that Dr. Kelsey practiced medicine (1936 to 1986), medical knowledge doubled or tripled. Penicillin, streptomycin and aureomycin, the new antibiotics, were miracle drugs. Before their advent, 50 percent of all deaths were from infections such as pneumonia, peritonitis, septicemia, tuberculosis and syphilis.

As his practice expanded, he and his partners had many patients with hypertension, or high blood pressure, a disease responsible for many deaths from heart attacks and strokes. No effective treatment had been devised until the 1950s when drugs were developed which could directly lower blood pressure.

About 1955, the polio vaccine was developed by Dr. Jonas Salk. There was a nationwide rush to vaccinate everyone, especially the children. The Harris County Medical Society undertook this task with Dr. E.L. Goar in charge. Houston was among the first mass test centers to determine the effectiveness of the oral vaccine. The incidence of polio fell to almost zero. The introduction of a successful polio vaccine was one of the greatest medical achievements of the 20th century.

Many other advances in medicine occurred in the 1950s. Tuberculosis was coming under control as a result of streptomycin. Infirmaries for treating tuberculosis were closing down. Vascular surgery really took off on October 12, 1954. Drs. Debakey, Cooley and Creech performed an operation that was telecast nationwide. They replaced a diseased aorta with a section of preserved aorta from another person. Artificial arteries were replacing diseased ones all over the body. The heart by-pass pump was developed making it possible to continue the circulation of blood while a diseased or malformed heart was being surgically repaired.

Organ transplants got underway, slowly, but were hampered by the body’s rejection of transplanted tissue. Also, the specialty of oncology was evolving. Memorial Hospital in New York City, Roswell Park in Buffalo, New York, and MD Anderson Cancer Center were the only cancer hospitals in America.

Another important advance in medicine, developed mainly in Houston, was the mammogram for detecting breast cancer. The original research was done in 1956 at St. Joseph’s and MD Anderson.


"Father of Endocrinology"

Dr. Kelsey began working part-time at MD Anderson in 1949, specializing in thyroid disease. During his 20 years at the institution, he developed a clinical isotope program, established an endocrine clinic and worked on constructing a Geiger counter to determine thyroid uptake of radioiodine. Dr. Kelsey was the first Houston physician to hold a license from the Atomic Energy Commission to administer radioisotopes to humans and he gave the first dose of radioiodine to a patient in Houston in 1949.


History & Art Collectors

Dr. Kelsey and his wife, Mary, spent the equivalent of several full-time years doing genealogy because they enjoyed it. They also had a love for collecting art and Texas historical memorabilia. Portions of their extensive collection can be viewed in more than 20 museums and the Texas A&M University library.
For example, the Mavis and Mary Kelsey Collection of Winslow Homer Prints is housed in the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas. Dr. Kelsey wrote the catalog for this collection, named “Winslow Homer Graphics,” which is an authoritative reference work used by Homer scholars nationwide.

In 1979, the Kelseys donated their collection of art and Americana to the Special Collections of the Sterling Evans Library at Texas A&M. On April 13, 1983, the Kelseys received a Philanthropic Award for their gifts to A&M at an Annual Meeting of the Texas Library Association in San Antonio.



Accomplished Writer

Dr. Kelsey wrote more than a dozen books on art, history, genealogy, and travel. His books include “The Courthouses of Texas” and “Twentieth-Century Doctor.

Sources: “Twentieth-Century Doctor,” by Mavis P. Kelsey, Sr., “Doctoring in Houston,” by Mavis Parrott Kelsey, Sr., and “Kelsey-Seybold Clinic: A Legacy of Excellence in Health Care,” by William Henry Kellar and Vaishali J. Patel.