Rhonda Harrington Kelley


Rhonda Harrington Kelley (Dec. 13, 1951—Feb. 17, 2024), who lived a life of devotion and commitment in service to her Lord Jesus Christ that touched the lives of thousands, went to be with her Lord while surrounded by family at home in Fairhope, Alabama.

As Rhonda served alongside her beloved husband Chuck Kelley, President Emeritus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS), she faithfully served others through her professional work as a speech pathologist, as an author or editor of 23 books, as the director of the NOBTS women’s ministry program and an NOBTS adjunct faculty member, and as mentor to a countless number of women helping them grow in the Lord and succeed in their respective places of service. 

Born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Rhonda married Chuck Kelley, her sweetheart from Baylor University, Jun. 21, 1974. Their new life together took them to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where Chuck entered as a student, stayed when elected to faculty, and then in 1996 was commissioned as president. 

The move to the NOBTS campus was a return home for Rhonda who had lived there as a child when her father Bob Harrington, widely known as the Chaplain of Bourbon Street, attended NOBTS and began his ministry in the city. As Chuck pursued his calling, Rhonda earned a doctorate in speech pathology from the University of New Orleans which led to a highly successful, 15-year career as the Director of Speech Pathology for the Ochsner Medical System in New Orleans. Her love for and easy way with children put her in high demand as she helped them overcome speech impediments and difficulties. 

Because of her commitment to serve God and serve alongside her husband, Rhonda willingly took on a new direction in life when Chuck was elected seminary president. Her fervent devotion to serving and equipping women resulted in a call from convention leaders to research and report on the ministry needs of women in Southern Baptist churches. Her work helped bring the focus of the convention to the needs of training women to minister to women. Rhonda’s passion to see women equipped fueled the start of a new and innovative program at NOBTS -- the women’s ministry certificate program -- that brought together theological grounding and pragmatic training for women. Launched in 1997, the program was the first of its kind among the six Southern Baptist seminaries.

Through the years, the NOBTS women’s ministry program expanded to include women’s ministry specializations and training at every academic level as women serve women in lay ministry, on church staffs, in academia, and other avenues of ministry.

“Rhonda loved God’s Word and encouraged others to do the same,” said Tara Dew, wife of NOBTS President Jamie Dew and adjunct professor of ministry to women. “Her life and legacy continue to impact many women through the scholarships and endowments in her name and the books she authored.”

At NOBTS, the Dr. Rhonda Kelley Ph.D. Fellowship in Women’s Leadership, established in 2019 in Rhonda’s honor, encourages academic excellence and service among women students. Among the books she authored or edited are the bestselling Woman’s Study Bible, published in 1995 by Thomas Nelson, which has sold to date more than two million copies. She also edited The Study Bible for Women, published by Holman Bible Publishers in 2015, as well as serving as the managing editor for the companion titles Women’s Evangelical Commentary for the Old Testament and the New Testament.  Other books Rhonda authored include Life Lessons from Women of the Bible, the A Woman’s Guide Bible Study series, Divine Discipline, and Raising Moms: Daughters Loving Their Mothers in the Later Years, and many more.

Hospitality marked her service to the NOBTS family and to visitors from around the world. After the president’s home became her home in 1996, Rhonda hosted international guests, convention leaders, women students and student wives, gatherings for faculty wives, wedding showers and special events. Even school children on campus knew they could ring the front doorbell and find a friendly face when school fundraising events rolled around.

Rhonda was preceded in death by her father Rev. Bob Harrington and her mother Joyce Compton Harrington, and infant brother Robert Grey Harrington. She is survived by her husband of 50 years, Dr. Charles (Chuck) Kelley, Fairhope, Alabama, sister Mitzi Ramsey Woodson (Dr. Steve Woodson), Stigler, Oklahoma, sisters-in-law Dr. Dorothy Patterson (Dr. Paige Patterson), Dallas, Texas, Kathy Kelley, Las Vegas, Nevada, Charlene Kelley Coe (Greg Coe), Dallas, Texas, Eileen Turrentine (Rev. Steve Turrentine), Tyler, Texas, and many nieces and nephews.

Rhonda’s Homecoming Celebration was held Feb. 21 at First Baptist Church, Fairhope, Alabama. Visitation began at 9:30 a.m. with the service at 11 a.m. Interment was at Claybar Haven of Rest in Beaumont, Texas, Feb. 23, 10 a.m. Funeral arrangements were arranged by Wolfe Bayview Funeral Homes in Fairhope.

A memorial service will be held on Monday, Feb. 26, at 2 p.m. at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in Rhonda’s memory to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, attention: Institutional Advancement, 3939 Gentilly Blvd., New Orleans, LA, 70126.