Haley left profound impact on entire community
Memorial celebration coming in September
Memories of Matt Haley have flowed across Sussex County this week after the local chef and philanthropist died Aug. 19 from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident in Ladakh, India.
Restaurant and shop marquees lifted Haley’s name into the air as preparations were made for his celebration of life, scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 28, at 2 p.m. at the Freeman Stage at Bayside. The rain date is Monday, Sept. 29 at 11 a.m. The event is open to the public, and the Freeman Stage can accommodate more than 2,000 people.
“Matt touched so many lives that we felt it was only right to give as many people as possible the opportunity to pay tribute to him,” said Scott Kammerer, president and COO of the Matt Haley Companies.
Organizers of the event were still firming up details mid-week, but featured speakers will include those who worked closely with Haley, both personally and professionally. His Global Delaware Fund, founded in 2011, is active locally and abroad, and many guests will represent the nonprofits that the fund and Haley supported.
“The service is a celebration,” Kammerer said. “Matt would want people to remember him with laughter, kindness and joy.”
There will be food and music. The food truck Big Thunder Roadside Kitchen — one of Haley last culinary projects — will be on hand. The sounds of Haley’s favorite music genre, Motown, will hover on the air. Delaware filmmaker Rob Waters is expected to make a film montage.
Located off of Route 54, the Freeman Stage is at 31750 Lake View Drive in Selbyville. More information is available online at www.freemanstage.com.
Meanwhile, across the county and across the Internet, people shared Haley stories, from getting their first jobs to trying new foods with him.
He bounced all over the world, from cooking on Mexico City food trucks to managing Italian business ventures to helping Nepalese women learn and find jobs so they could avoid sex slavery.
Haley’s humanitarian efforts garnered him the 2014 James Beard Foundation’s Humanitarian of the Year Award, the National Restaurant Association Education’s Foundation Cornerstone Humanitarian Award and the International Association of Culinary Professionals National Humanitarian Award — a culinary-humanitarian triple crown.
“I believe the greatest gift you can give another human being is the gift of example,” Haley said in a James Beard Foundation profile video. “It’s important for me not to tell somebody, but to show somebody how to live.”
Haley also remarked that his 20s ended with him doing crack locked in a closet, and his 30s began with a SWAT team, rehabilitation and a culinary program that taught him his passion for the next 20 years.
“He kinda had a late start in life. Look at what he achieved!” said Sue Ryan, owner of Good Earth Market. “I swear he was just beginning. He was feeling his full power, and I think he was only at the beginning. I think that’s a lesson from all of us — that we need to pick up and do our best.”
Connecting the community
Haley was all about second chances, and he didn’t waste a second.
When Good Earth opened, Haley immediately visited to suggest cooking demos. These got so popular, Ryan said, she feared the fire marshal would visit.
“What should we showcase? Let’s promote what you’re doing. Let’s show people great food and how to prepare it,” Ryan recalled him saying.
He suggested the market’s first Farm-To-Table dinner, serving local, freshly cooked food on one giant outdoor table, which Ryan said was still a new concept at the time.
“He was on the cutting edge,” said Ryan, always excited when he drove up with a new idea. “Plate Catering is still our chef partner for all our events on our farm and will continue to be. We will keep that relationship.”
In “typical Matt style,” the dinners have always benefitted local charities. Ryan said his spirit will still linger in the field at this September’s event.
Those dinners weren’t easy. Working with Haley could be stressful, but “you always work hard to do something great,” Ryan said. “He was demanding, but because he had a vision … we grew to love that and admire that in him.”
He also spoke up, praising what he liked or saying what he didn’t.
‘Go grab five watermelons’
When Haley had an idea, he didn’t hesitate but made it happen.
“He didn’t just talk about it. He executed!” Ryan said.
At one Farm-To-Table dinner, Ryan remembers him instructing her, “Sue, go grab five watermelons.” She and her staff ran off and returned to watch him chop the melon with jalapeno and lime, for one of the best courses of the evening — a complete surprise.
When he saw a picture of Nepalese children at a fundraiser, he immediately pitched in to sponsor their education. After corresponding with them, he came to love the little girls who lived 7,000 miles away, and found true love when he visited the three girls who came to call him “Papa.”
Haley’s stories flow so easily because he shared so much of himself with others, giving time and encouragement. Whether it was his initial diagnosis or his recent “cancer-free” announcement, he shared and connected himself to the people around him.
“This world is so global. He was such a big person that he saw globally,” Ryan said.
In Georgetown, the non-profit La Esperznza mourned the loss of its board president but refused to lose inspiration.
“His life and his great spirit has taught us that it is possible to rise above the most challenging circumstances, to discover and live out our gifts to the greatest degree, to live with deep commitment, joy and fearlessness and, above all, to love each other with enormous compassion,” read La Esperanza’s statement. “Such a huge loss for the state, for the country, for the world. A huge loss, because his life was such a great gift.”
“He would do anything to help you. And that’s really unique,” Ryan said.
“Matt had tremendous business responsibility and obligations,” said Zachary McCarthy at Tented Events DE, which got some of its first and continued business from Haley.
Besides succeeding in the whirlwind restaurant industry, Haley made time for individuals.
“He gave you all the time in the world,” McCarthy said. “The biggest thing for me was: when we leave this earth, what legacy are you gonna leave? … It’s the people you touch, you help out. … We all have obligations. … You should be out there helping.
“Everywhere he’s gone, he’s tried to lift people up,” he added. “That’s something we can all learn.”