John H. Kelly, 72, a career Foreign Service officer who served as ambassador to Lebanon from 1986 to 1988 and to Finland from 1991 to 1994, died Sept. 15 at a hospital in Atlanta. He had acute myeloid leukemia.
The death was confirmed by his daughter, Maria Kelly.
Ambassador Kelly joined the Foreign Service in 1965 and had diplomatic assignments in Turkey, Thailand and France as he advanced through the ranks.
In the 1980s, he was senior deputy assistant secretary for public affairs, principal deputy assistant secretary for European affairs and deputy director of the State Department’s policy planning staff.
He was assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs from 1989 to 1991, a period that included the Persian Gulf War.
While in Lebanon, he attracted media attention for back-channel work between the Reagan White House and militants that led to the release of an American hostage, David Jacobsen, who was being held in Lebanon. Ambassador Kelly bypassed the State Department in this work. He kept his diplomatic post but was reprimanded by Secretary of State George P. Shultz.
Soon after his service in Finland, he retired and began a long second career as a consultant specializing in international business. He moved from Arlington County to Georgia in 1996 and was a resident of Conyers.
John Hubert Kelly was born in Fond du Lac, Wis., and grew up in Atlanta, where he graduated from Emory University in 1961. He was a schoolteacher in Danville, Va., and Niles, Mich., before joining government service.
His first marriage, to Abigail Snowdon, ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife of 23 years, Helena “Maritza” Ajo-Kelly of Conyers; a son from his first marriage, David Kelly of Tarrytown, N.Y.; a daughter from his second marriage, Maria Kelly of Atlanta; a sister, Kathryn Kelly of Avondale Estates, Ga.; and two brothers, James Kelly of Honolulu, a retired assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and Michael Kelly of Reston.
— Adam Bernstein