50th ANNIVERSARY FACT: The First Lady of Mental Health

September 5th, 2017

One in a series of articles focusing on the history of David Lawrence Center, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2018.

It’s been 47 years since Polly Keller was dubbed “The First Lady of Mental Health” by the Collier County Mental Health Clinic Board of Directors, and in many ways, that title is still spot-on.

Without Keller’s efforts in the 1960s, David Lawrence Center might not be here today. In 1968, she helped found the Collier County Mental Health Clinic, later renamed David Lawrence Center. In 1976, she formed the Foundation for Mental Health Inc. (now the David Lawrence Foundation) to spearhead fundraising for the clinic, and she has since helped raise millions of dollars.

As the daughter of a psychiatrist who ran a state mental hospital in Nebraska, Keller was exposed from a very young age to those struggling with mental illness. Her psychiatrist father, who worked at the hospital, was constantly crusading for more mental health funding, a crusade Polly took on as she grew into an adult.

“Early on, I developed an empathy and compassion for the patients I came to know so well,” says Keller, now 82. “Delivering quality mental health services to those in need, regardless of their ability to pay, has been a primary concern all my life.”

She is quick to note that Florida ranks 49th nationally in spending per capita for mental health expenses. “I’ve seen the need to supplement inadequate government funding. And I’ve seen the need to continue developing quality mental health services and programs to meet the needs of a growing population. That’s why we fundraise.”

Keller’s late husband, architect Walter Keller, designed the Center’s Golden Gate campus. Her son Shaun Kelly, CPA, served on the DLC Board for decades, and her other son, local attorney Charles Kelly, Jr., has been a dedicated supporter for years.

Keller has also served on the boards of the Greater Naples Civic Association, Naples Women’s Club, Cooper Institute for Advanced Study of Medicine and Humanities, and the International Foundation for the Preservation of the Family.

She was recently named one of the “Faces of Philanthropy” by the Southwest Florida Community Foundation. Keller also won the prestigious 1987 Naples Daily News Outstanding Citizen Award, and in 2004 was presented with the David Lawrence Center & Foundation Beautiful Heart Award.

“David Lawrence Center is truly a wonderful resource for this community,” says Keller. “It has been my joy and privilege to have been a volunteer with them all these years.”


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