With Heart and Wealth, George F. Kettle Touched Many Children's Lives

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

FOR A sixth-grade class of some 60 low-income youngsters at a Southeast Washington school, it was an exceptional promise, tied to a daunting challenge: George F. Kettle, a most generous local man of means, guaranteed each of them -- upon graduation from high school -- a college education. That was 22 years ago, and since then, more than 80 percent of those class members from the Winston Educational Center have crossed the finish line and gone on to productive careers. Many of them who stayed in touch plan to gather Friday at a memorial service for Mr. Kettle, who died April 15 in his home in Potomac at the age of 80. To them and to so many others -- children and adults whom he embraced with genuine concern, valuable advice and tangible assistance -- Mr. Kettle spelled the difference between the pitfalls of the streets and the opportunities of the working world.

Mr. Kettle would be among the first to note that the Winston program and a second one he adopted, at Brent Elementary School on Capitol Hill, both affiliated with the national I Have a Dream Foundation, experienced disappointments. Pregnancies, criminal activities, the lure of big money from drug sales, and the absence of caring adults and follow-through took their toll. Yet as so many students have observed, he helped them when they needed it most. Looking back some years ago, Mr. Kettle said, "I hadn't fully appreciated the extent of the problems some of these kids face."

Mr. Kettle, who was born in Washington and raised at Fort Myer, began his professional sales career at the age of 8, selling magazines to patients at Walter Reed Hospital. While attending the University of Maryland, he went door to door selling silver and china, and in 1958 he turned to selling real estate in Northern Virginia. Seven years later, he and a partner opened a real estate company in Tysons Corner. In 1973, Mr. Kettle purchased the franchise for Century 21 Real Estate for Maryland, Virginia, the District, Delaware and Eastern Pennsylvania, which grew to more than 6,000 sales associates and 430 offices before he sold it in 1996 to establish George F. Kettle Enterprises LLC.

On a drive to Pennsylvania in 1982, his wife Janice recalls, Mr. Kettle pulled over to the side of a road and concluded that he was not all that fulfilled by his prosperous lifestyle. He decided to set aside money "to do good work" with young people in need. Little donations here and there led to bigger contributions as he set about enthusiastically befriending and vigorously assisting promising youngsters, tracking their progress, inviting them to his riverfront house and guiding them into careers.

Like the beneficiaries of his kindness, the awards for his charitable endeavors were legion. George Kettle loved it all -- and he left this region an inspiring, living legacy.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company