Ireland and the American South have left their mark on Matt Kelley, but make no mistake about it: he’s Harwich born and bred and he’s still Harwich all the way.
The former Harwich High School athlete is now Matthew P. Kelley, attorney at law with an office in West Harwich, and deeply involved in the leadership of both the Family Pantry and the Dollars for Scholars committee at Monomoy High School. And when he marries Erin Hoffman of Dennis in June, they will make their home in Harwich.
“I was interested in the law even as a little kid. I wanted to be on the Supreme Court,” Kelley recalled. But another love also vied for his attention: sports. He enjoyed both tennis and basketball, but when he realized that “I wasn’t going to make it in the NBA,” he decided to concentrate on the law, a journey that took him first to Davidson College in North Carolina and then to the law school at Boston’s Suffolk University.
Right out of law school in 2005, he landed a job as an assistant district attorney (he had interned in the DA’s office) and stayed with it until he decided that he wanted to go into private practice. He now works with colleague Jim Stinson, and that too is a very local relationship.
“I went to school with his sons,” he said.
Kelley’s decision to strike out on his own involved what may seem like a monumental change of focus: he switched from prosecution to defense, which he’s been doing for the last five years. As surprising as the change sounds, Kelley said, “For me, the change was seamless. Your skills are honed in the courtroom – the process and the topics are the same. I’m comfortable with juries and judges. And I like to help people.”
He added about the practice of law, “I really do believe in the process. We have a process that we can be proud of.”
Kelley carries that same spirit into his volunteer service.
He has served The Family Pantry of Cape Cod, which is headquartered in Harwich, for several years as a member of its board of directors, nominating committee, and executive board. The pantry has recently purchased a 5,400-square-foot building on Route 28 in West Harwich. According to a publicity brochure, the pantry provides food to nearly 9,000 people – about 4 percent of Barnstable County’s population. By their own records, about two-thirds of their clients have one or even two working people in the household. “Despite their efforts, they just don’t make enough to cover living expenses,” says the brochure.
As a graduate of the old Harwich High School, Kelley is also happy to boost the futures of students at its successor, Monomoy Regional High School, by serving on the Dollars for Scholars committee. He is new to that board.
The organization provides a database of all the scholarships that are open to the school’s seniors. It’s a relatively new idea for the Harwich kids, but Chatham “has done it forever,” Kelley said, noting that “every scholarship is open to every senior,” and that a student only has to submit one application to the data base to apply for them all.
With his mother a teacher in the Dennis-Yarnouth system, Kelley values education and considered it as a profession for himself. “If I weren’t here,” he said, indicating his law office, “I’d be teaching high school and coaching basketball.”
What does he think of the merger of Chatham and Harwich high schools into the regional Monomoy? “It works,” Kelley said, adding that “from a community standpoint [the merger] makes a lot of sense to me.”
But as much of a homie as Matt Kelley may be, he carries with him two formative experiences that happened at some distance from Cape Cod. He went to college in North Carolina, and spent one semester of those years in Dublin, Ireland.
“I’ve always lived outside my comfort zone,” he observed, and so out of 16 colleges that he was considering, he chose Davidson, which had just 1,600 students, although “it was bigger than Harwich High, after all,” he said.
The little college let him experience a taste of the South – literally. “I still like barbecue and sweet tea,” he said as he smiled at the memory, “and I’m still close to my Davidson buddies,” some of whom live in the South.
As a political science major, he took advantage of an opportunity the school offered him to live in Dublin and study Irish history. The course was taught in a pub on Friday nights, a chance “to have a pint and talk history,” which he said was a very effective way to learn. He also traveled.
“I saw all Ireland, and also Italy, Spain, England, France…” Ireland and the southern US have something important in common, in Kelley’s opinion. In both places, he said, “People are so welcoming, so interested to talk. I wouldn’t have traded those times for anything.”
Speaking of travel, where will he and his bride go on their honeymoon after that June wedding? That remains to be seen, Kelley said: “We’ll go somewhere in the fall. We’re Cape kids, and we don’t want to miss a Cape summer.”