Mark Kelly is widely known as the loving husband of Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman shot in an assassination attempt in 2011.
But he's also a former astronaut and newly published children's book author, a decorated Gulf War fighter pilot and the father of two teenaged daughters. Despite a plate spilling over professionally and personally, Kelly will be in Minneapolis Oct. 13 to champion his newest passion: Returning civility to politics.
Talk about a combat mission.
But Kelly is pleasantly optimistic. "People have realized that we're off-course here," he said, during a telephone interview Wednesday. "Regardless of who wins [the presidential election] next month, I get the sense that members of Congress are going to want to work together."
Kelly will speak at 8 p.m. Saturday as part of the Voices of Inspiration Speaker Series at Temple Israel, 2324 Emerson Av. S., in Minneapolis. The 10-year-old series has brought in luminaries including Elie Wiesel, Paul Rusesabagina of Hotel Rwanda and Maya Angelou.
Temple Israel Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman said Kelly is the perfect pick for the topic: Gathering Together As a Nation and A Community.
"In this world where being able to listen to each other is no longer the norm, Mark Kelly is the voice to help us bring back a sense of civil discourse and understanding," she said.
Kelly never set out to redefine his life with this focus. But he received the worst call imaginable on Jan. 8, 2011. His wife of just over three years had been shot in the head during a political meet-and-greet in front of a grocery store in Tucson, Az. Six people were killed, including a 9-year-old girl.
At a rehabilitation center in Houston, Texas, Giffords began to relearn how to walk, speak, read and write. Her miraculous progress heartened her husband who, with her blessing, decided to go ahead and pilot Space Shuttle Endeavor on May 16, 2011.
Now retired from NASA, he's busier than ever, mostly with public speaking engagements. A year after he and Giffords authored, "Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope," , he proudly notes that his first children's book, "Mousetronaut: A Partially True Story," is rapidly climbing up amazon.com.
The book, released Oct. 9, was inspired by the mice that flew with him on his first spaceflight in 2001.
Close to home, he and Giffords are active participants in the University of Arizona's National Institute for Civil Discourse, (nicd.arizona.edu), which opened one month after Giffords was shot. The non-partisan institute, whose honorary chairs are Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, was created to foster respectful dialogue across party lines and political divides.
The home page features a Kelly-penned essay titled "A confidence crisis of our politicians' making."
"How do we get back to a point where we can work together to solve problems?" Kelly asked during the phone interview, before quickly answering.
"We need to try to appeal to people's better judgment, to discourage members of Congress from fighting for these huge majorities. We used to have a Congress that had a good number of people considered moderates, Democrats who could work with Republicans and Republicans who could work with Democrats. There's no overlap anymore, no middle. Eighty percent of people are on the far left and far right.
"If we had 80 percent in the middle, we could fix any problem."
He's "very optimistic" that Giffords, who resigned from Congress in January, will one day return to a life of public service, to be part of that fix.
"She's such a fighter," Kelly said of Giffords, who goes to rehabilitation five days a week. "We don't dwell on what happened. We look forward, make the best of each day."
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