Optometrist Carleton C. Kelley, who practiced in this building in the 1950s and 60s, took out an ad in the Bar Harbor Times to announce his retirement in 1968. “I will not run for the president of the United States,” he wrote in the ad, “under any circumstances.” ISLANDER PHOTO BY BECKY PRITCHARD

The optometrist who wouldn’t run for President

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — This primary season, here’s a story of a campaign that never happened.

When local optometrist Carleton C. Kelley announced his retirement on March 21, 1968, he did so in a two-column ad in the Bar Harbor Times.

“I cannot see any more patients because of physical disability,” he wrote, suggesting his patients go see Dr. John Weast in Bar Harbor or Dr. Gordon Rand in Ellsworth.

Signing off, Kelley added, “P.S. I will not run for the president of the United States under any circumstances.”

Many of us live our lives never running for President. Few of us announce it in the newspaper. Why Kelley would announce in the Bar Harbor Times that he would not run for President was a story worth finding out.

Keep in mind, Maine did produce a Vice Presidential candidate in 1968. Sen. Edmund Muskie, born in the mill town of Rumford, was on the Democratic ticket with Presidential hopeful Hubert Humphrey.

Four years before that, Sen. Margaret Chace Smith of Skowhegan, the daughter of a barber, ran for President as a Republican. Though she did not win her party’s nomination, she was the first woman to have her name placed in nomination by any major political party.

In this context, the idea of a small-town optometrist on the coast of Maine considering a run for President was not so far-fetched. Still, it raised a lot of questions. Had Kelley been involved in politics? Had people been asking him to run? Was he Republican or Democrat?

Digging through more Bar Harbor Times archives and genealogical records helped fill in more of Kelley’s story. He was born in Southwest Harbor in 1919 to parents Carl E. and Beatrice Carroll Kelley. The family moved to Northeast Harbor, where Carl Kelley was Principal of Gilman High School. Young Kelley graduated from Gilman in 1937.

Four years later, Kelley graduated from Penn State College of Optometry in June 1941. A Bar Harbor Times article announcing his graduation stated that he planned to start practice in North Carolina that fall. But plans change in wartime.

By October 1941, Kelley was not in North Carolina setting up a new optometry practice, but in Portland, Maine enlisting in the army. This was just two months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor thrust the United States into World War II.

Kelley was serving in the army medical department in Mitchell Field, N.Y. when he married Helen E. Turnbull in Belleville, N.J. in March 1942, according to newspaper reports. Though they married in New Jersey, Kelley and Turnbull had attended Gilman High School together. Northeast Harbor guests were in attendance at the service.

On medical detail in the U.S., Staff Sergeant Kelley was able to stay close to his wife. The two of them, and eventually their children, made the society pages in the newspaper each time they came home to visit Northeast Harbor.

Following his discharge from military service, Kelley and his wife and family settled in Northeast Harbor. By 1950, Kelley had set up his Optometry practice in Southwest Harbor, where he practiced many years. He and his wife raised four children. Years later, following his retirement, Kelley died in Togus Veteran’s Hospital in 1971.

We are closer now to understanding Kelley as a person, but we are no closer to figuring out why he would not run for President. Attempts to reach surviving family members by phone were unsuccessful.

Enter Ralph Stanley, a local historian and master boat builder. Stanley has lived most of his 91 years in Southwest Harbor, knows everybody, remembers everything and was luckily available for an interview.

“He fitted my first pair of glasses,” Stanley said of Kelley. “His office was upstairs in the Oddfellow’s building.” The large Main Street building had doctors’ offices on the second floor and a telephone office, Stanley remembered. At one time the police station was also there, he said.

Stanley did not know if Kelley was Republican or Democrat, or if he was interested in politics at all. That was not something he discussed with his Optometrist.

When asked why Kelley announced in the newspaper he wouldn’t run for President, Stanley answered, “He did it as a joke. Yeah, he had a sense of humor.”

History books are full of the deeds of Presidents, heads of states and leaders of influential movements. But to get a picture of what regular people were up to, read a newspaper from years ago. That gives you a ground-floor view of history as it happened every day.

That is how you meet the important people like Dr. Carlton C. Kelley. He didn’t seek to take the oath of office of Presidency, but he did serve his country during World War II.

He never wanted to run for office himself (under any circumstances), but he did help people see clearly enough to see the television, read the paper, and cast their votes for President.


Becky Pritchard
Former Islander reporter Becky Pritchard covered the town of Bar Harbor and was a park ranger in Acadia for six seasons.
Becky Pritchard

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