Retired General John F. Kelly is President Donald Trump’s new White House Chief of Staff. Kelly, who spent the first six months of the Trump Administration as Secretary of Homeland Security, is married to Karen Hernest Kelly.
Trump made his announcement on Twitter. “I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff. He is a Great American and a Great Leader. John has also done a spectacular job at Homeland Security. He has been a true star of my Administration,” Trump wrote. He then thanked his former Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus “for his service and dedication to his country. We accomplished a lot together and I am proud of him.”
Kelly is a retired member of the U.S. Marine Corps and a four-star General. He served in the Persian Gulf War and the Iraq War, and was Commander of United States Southern Command under President Barack Obama.
Kelly and his wife had three children, including Robert Michael Kelly, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010. Their son John Kelly Jr. also serves in the Marines. They also have a daughter, Kathleen Kelly.
Here’s what you need to know about Kelly’s wife Karen.
1. She Created a Scholarship in Her Son’s Memory Through the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation
Kelly was the highest-ranking member of the military to lose a child during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. His youngest son, Robert, died while on patrol in Sangin, Afghanistan in 2010. As The Los Angeles Times reported at the time, Robert was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in November 2010. Robert Kelly was 29 years old.
After her son’s death, Karen helped set up the First Lieutenant Robert Kelly Memorial Scholarship in his honor.
Karen told the San Diego Union Tribune that she knew the scholarship was the best way to honor her son’s memory.
“I decided on the day I found out … that I would do something to make my son proud. Because I was very proud of him. And I would not allow his death to … I just wanted to do something good. Because out of everything, out of the pain that we feel, something good has to come out of it,” Karen told the Union-Tribune. “Some people choose to wallow in self-pity. I chose to do something positive, because I think my son would be very disappointed in me if I didn’t.”
Before the 2017-2018 academic year, the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation gave out $7.3 million in scholarships.
2. Karen & Kelly Have Been Married Since 1976
According to Karen’s bio at Got Heart Give Hope, Karen married Kelly in October 1976.
As a military spouse for over four decades, she’s been focused on helping military families, wounded service-members and families who have lost loved ones in action. She has been working with the Marine Corps Family Readiness Program since it began.
Karen is also on the board of the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation.
3. Daughter Kathleen Kelly Has Worked for the American Red Cross at Walter Reed
Kelly and Karen’s daughter Kathleen has worked for the American Red Cross. In a 2012 speech at the fifth annual Brain at War Conference, Karen said Kathleen attended three high schools because the family moved around a lot. She moved to her final high school when the family was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California.
Karen said that Kathleen’s two years at Camp Pendleton made a major impact on her daughter’s life.
“My daughter’s two years at Camp Pendleton were spent helping with our visits to the hospital to see our wounded, putting together care packages and meeting medivacs,” Karen said in 2012. “It changed the course of her life. Until then she had wanted to become a middle school history teacher. She now works for the Red Cross at Walter Reed National Medical Center, Bethesda.”
4. Karen’s Father Served in World War II
Karen was born into a military family. Her Got Heart Got Hope bio notes that her father was a Marine who served in the Fourth Marine Division in World War II. After the war, her father became a police officer in New Jersey.
Her association with the military from birth explains her dedication to those who have served.
“We send our loved ones off and pray for their safety. We live with the fear and stress every day, visit their wounded comrades and say goodbye to their fellow Marines,” Karen said in her 2012 speech. “I have lived with fear for ten years. No matter what else you do, it is always there. For our family, the worst fear came true in the early morning of November 9, 2010 when there was a knock on the door. One of our oldest and dearest friends was standing there to tell us that our son, Robert, had been lost. This was a man who had held him as a baby and had seen him grow up into a man.”
5. Their Son John Kelly Jr. Also Serves in the Marines
Karen and Kelly’s eldest son John Kelly Jr. also served in the Marines. As Karen explained in 2012, John Kelly Jr. graduated from the University of Florida.
Kelly’s son Robert graduated from Florida State University in 2003. The Washington Post reports that his decision to join the Marine Corps surprised Kelly and Karen. Two years before Robert joined, John joined as an officer.
By 2011, a year after Robert’s death, the three men in the Kelly family served 11 combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.