Adams Honors Kielys in Ceremony

House dedicates conservatory to long-serving Masters

Adams House said an official goodbye last night to Robert Kiely and his wife Jana, the two long-serving former Masters who helped give the House its reputation for tolerance and quirkiness.

About 100 students and other admirers squeezed into the Adams House Conservatory last night to dedicate the room to the Kielys, who served as Co-Masters of the House from 1973 to 1999.

Over the quarter-century, the fostered artistic freedom and tolerance in the House, which, before randomization in 1995, was known as the House most welcoming to the gay community.

As Masters, the Kielys fought randomization in an effort to maintain the identity and character of the House, said David Fithian, Adams' Allston Burr Senior Tutor, in his tribute to the couple.

"They were champions of acceptance and belonging," Fithian said. "Bob and Jana had the courage to take a stand."

Judith Palfrey, who was named Adams Master when the Kielys stepped down last year, echoed Fithian's sentiments.

"This is a place where ideas and creativity are cherished," said Palfrey, who is Brazelton professor of pediatrics at the Harvard Medical School.

"Welcome to Adams House," she said.

The Kielys embodied that mood of tolerance, Palfrey said.

"These two wonderful people...for 25 years have told us what really matters," she said.

After her short speech, Palfrey paused. Three picture frames bearing Adams House seals hung on the walls. One-by-one, Palfrey removed the frames, revealing photographs of the Kielys taken over the 25 years and a passage from ancient philosopher Lao-Tzu in the original Chinese.

Studying the pictures, Robert Kiely's eyes flashed with recognition.

One of the pictures, he said, was from 1973, when then-University President Derek C. Bok offered him and his wife the Adams House mastership.

The Kielys acknowledged eccentricities ensured that they would butt heads with administrators.

And in 25 years, they often did.

While defending Adams residents' freedom of expression, they were regularly chastised by students and Faculty alike for a permissive attitude toward sex, drugs and nonconformity.

At times, the Kielys were forced to impose limits--like when, in the early 1990s, they closed the Adams House pool after a particularly outrageous party, described by some as bacchanalian.

But those incidents proved the exception rather than the rule.

And their students loved them for it.

Last night, three male Adams residents showed up to the reception in drag--dresses, lipstick, fishnet stockings and heels.

It was, they said, in honor of their former Masters.

"He's just a very loving man," said R. David Smith '00, an Adams House resident.

When Smith was struggling with his sexuality early in his Harvard career, he said he said he found a sympathetic ear in Robert Kiely.

Kiely spoke only briefly before the crowd walked the few feet into the Adams dining hall for a festive meal--the dining hall that he led the charge to renovate.

He said there was no other place at Harvard he would rather see bear the Kiely name than the conservatory.

The glass-ceilinged private dining hall was also his brainchild: a place on campus that people could go to talk to one another.

There are too many places in the world, Kiely said, where people communicate only in four-letter words in between video games.

Still, in his speech, he poked fun at the rakishness his House had often reveled in.

"If you don't fasten everything to the wall so it can't be lifted," he said, referring to the honorific items in the Kiely Conservatory, "all this will be gone within a year."