Moses Kelly served as Secret Service agent to five United States Presidents

Blythewoodian Moses Kelly stands next to President Richard Nixon’s limousine.

BLYTHEWOOD – Moses Kelly brushes his fingers over the Secret Service emblem embossed on the face of his retirement plaque, his eyes barely able to read the words of gratitude etched beneath it.

As the grip of Alzheimer’s disease ever tightens its hold over his mind and body, the retired Army Sergeant who later served as a Secret Service agent to five presidents, continues to fight back with the same passion that propelled him through his successful government career all those years ago.

“September 8, 1943,” he states without a moment of hesitation. “That’s the day I was drafted into the military.”

Originally from Madison County, Virginia, Kelly grew up during tense years for young African American men. Leaving school after the sixth grade to work on a farm, he admits his future did not seem too promising at the time, but the lessons he learned from his father about how to treat others with respect and to maintain “good common sense and a good attitude” put him in place to capitalize on opportunities that came his way.

By the time he was 18, Kelly had worked his way up from making 50 cents a day to $18 a month on the farm before the military came calling. Upon receiving his orders, he was sent to Shepherd Field in Wichita Falls, Texas for 12 weeks of basic training, then to California.

“Here I was, this young black boy going from Virginia out to California. That started my travels, right there,” he said. This was the beginning of a successful military career that would eventually take Kelly to Germany, Austria and Japan.

Moses Kelly and his wife Eleanor reminisce his Secret Service days at rural Blythewood home.

Kelly was brought into the military during the time of segregation.  He recalled that he and other African American men were forced to stay in barracks separate from the white soldiers, but he said he learned how to stand up for himself to prove his worth during a time when he might otherwise have been at a disadvantage. His skills and leadership backed his confidence, and he ultimately achieved the rank of what is now First Sergeant.

Kelly taught leadership skills to new recruits at the NCO Academy as well as at Ft. Knox, KY and Ft. Benning, GA.

After retiring from the Army, Kelly moved to Washington D.C. where he worked in a post office loading mail into carts for delivery. A testament to his motto – that God always put him in the right place at the right time – Kelly overheard a conversation between a co-worker and a friend while on break that began the next chapter of his career.

The friend was saying that the Treasury department was hiring with good pay and good benefits. Kelly said he decided then and there he wanted one of those positions.

“I went out right after work and got myself a new haircut, put on my best clothes and went on down there and presented myself as the best choice they had; they hired me on the spot,” he stated.

For the next ten months, Kelly worked as a security guard at the Treasury Department ensuring the safety of those entering and exiting the building and assisting in whatever ways he could.

One day in particular, he remembered, foot traffic into the building was especially busy. He saw one woman who was struggling with three small children – the youngest of which was crying loudly from his seat in a stroller, and the mother seemed overwhelmed.

“I called up for some help because we were getting busy and once they arrived I went over to her and said, ‘Ma’am, let me help you. Where do you need to get to? Please let me help you’”, Kelly recalled.

He managed to calm the youngest child, picked up another and led the woman to her destination. All the while, he noticed a man in a black suit watching him from across the building.

After assisting the woman and seeing her to the floor and office that she needed, Kelly said he returned to his post where the gentleman in the suit approached him.

“He was with the Secret Service, and he told me they had been scouting for new agents to recruit. He said he liked how I handled myself and he offered me a job,” Kelly stated.

Kelly found himself in the scout’s sights at a time when the Secret Service was adding more African American men to its ranks. It was 1967, a time of active integration of all Federal agencies propelled by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Kelly signed up immediately and spent the next several weeks in Maryland and Georgia training for his new career. It was clear he was a minority in the group, he said, but he did not let that deter him.

Kelly, as a young agent, aboard Air Force One.

“There were 36 of us, and only two of us were black,” he stated. “I had to always work just a little bit harder than everyone else, but that’s ok because I was never afraid of hard work.”

For the next 23 years, Kelly served as part of the elite Presidential Protection detail under five administrations. His duties were to ensure the safety of the President and his immediate family anywhere they traveled whether to their private homes or abroad.

His duties also included providing protection to visiting dignitaries, vice presidents and presidential candidates. He participated in protective advance responsibilities, intelligence gathering and national special security events that required extensive planning and coordination.

Kelly personally provided protection to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and H. W. Bush, traveling with them wherever they went.  During Nixon’s presidency, Kelly was assigned to the Nixon Western White House, La Casa Pacifica, the San Clemente beachfront estate in California.  Kelly said he spent considerable time protecting Nixon as he played golf.

With former President Reagan, Kelly was sometimes assigned to the Reagan’s Western White House, a 688-acre ranch also known as Rancho del Cielo or Heaven’s Ranch atop the Santa Ynez mountain range in Santa Barbara, California.  There, Kelly was in charge of maintaining tight security around the perimeter of the property at all times, and he personally saw to it that all eight vehicles in each motorcade were always kept up to standards and maintained. An important part of his responsibilities were to ensure Nancy Reagan’s safety as she rode the family’s horses during their visits to the ranch.

After serving former Presidents Ford and Carter, Kelly was assigned to former President George H. W. Bush and spent considerable time at Kennebunkport, the President’s estate and family compound on the coast of Maine.

In 1990, Kelly retired from the Secret Service after 23 years. While those more recent years are a struggle for him to remember, he does recall that his favorite President to serve under was President H.W. Bush.

“He was different from all the others. You know why? Because he could sit down and talk to you like you were his equal. With the others, there was always that level of distance where you were reminded they were the President and you were Secret Service. But not with him. With Bush, he could talk to you, man to man, about anything and make you feel completely at ease sitting right next to him,” Kelly stated.

First Lady Barbara Bush was also Kelly’s favored First Lady. According to Kelly, she always made sure that the agents were well taken care of, often inquiring about their family members and providing gifts and books for the agents.  His daughter, Doris Kelly, said she remembers well the late Mrs. Bush giving gifts to the Secret Service members and their families to thank them for their time protecting the First Family.

“It was like a family with them, everyone was welcomed and treated well,” Doris Kelly stated.

Upon retiring from the Secret Service, the Kelly family chose to settle down in Blythewood on family property belonging to Moses Kelly’s wife’s grandparents. The Kelly’s daughter, Doris, recently moved back to Blythewood to look after her parents who both suffer from the onset of Alzheimer’s.

While the disease has dealt a blow to Moses Kelly, and has begun to take his memory, it has not taken his goals or his passion. He will be turning 96 next month, and when he talks about his birthday, that confident and cocky former Army Sergeant who proved to be a force to be reckoned with in his service to his country, still has an unmistakable gleam in his eyes.

“I’ll be seeing 100. For sure. It’s not too long, now,” he said with a grin.