Family and friends celebrate life of Delaware’s Matt Haley

Friends, family and state leaders all spoke of Matt Haley’s humility, compassion and drive.

Several hundred people showed up Saturday afternoon at the Freeman Stage in Selbyville to honor the restaurateur and humanitarian who was killed in a motorcycle accident in India last month. Haley was there on a humanitarian mission. 

Haley’s best friend and business partner, Steve Kammerer, said, “Matt Haley believed in me before I believed in me.”

Gov. Jack Markell, D-Delaware, led the group of state leaders paying tribute. “Matt Haley loved Delaware and Delaware loved him back,” he said. “If people just dwell on the loss of his life they wouldn’t be honoring his legacy.”

Markell awarded Haley’s mother the Order of the First State, Delaware’s highest honor given by the governor for meritorious service.

Paying it forward

But Haley’s commitment to causes was summed up best by Faye Blake, Sussex County director for Pathways to Success. Her story about a big blue bus began with a radio station promotion. 

Ocean City, Md. morning disc jockey “Bulldog,” emceed the ceremony. He spoke of the promotion gone bad where his rock station ended up buying a 28 passenger bus. “Bulldog” said he talked Haley into buying it, who planned to use it as a mobile teaching kitchen until he heard about Blake’s need for transportation for her program. Blake said Haley not only gave her group the bus, but he also retrofitted it so it could run on biodiesel fuel which came from his restaurant group.

Blake said Haley also came to the group’s graduation ceremony on May 7th, just two days after he received the James Beard Foundation’s Humanitarian of the Year award.  She said Haley told her students there was no other place he’d rather be because he felt the need to “pay it forward,” and do something good for others.

In the speeches and video tributes, much was made about Haley’s early life including his battles with addictions and his time in jail. In one video segment, Haley credits his mother for having the courage, while he was incarcerated, in helping him turn his life around. 

The program included a picture Haley holding up a sign that broke down the number of days, hours, and minutes he had been sober over the last 24 years.

Rock star

The commemoration also included musical segments. According to Bulldog, one of the songs on the program was the Rolling Stones hit “Sympathy for the Devil,” because it was Haley’s favorite song. “Matt was a rock star,” the host said. “It was the most played song on his playlist.”

Perhaps the most touching part of the program came at the end when Michelle Freeman honored Haley. Haley had been a member of the Freeman Foundation board since 2012.  The two had become a couple last spring.

“He stole my heart,” Freeman said. “And if I was being completely honest, had he asked, he would have been my husband.” Freeman said she never wanted to fall in love with a chef, but they developed a friendship out of mutual respect and kindness. Freeman’s husband, Joshua Freeman, was killed in December 2006 in a helicopter crash in Delaware.

Haley’s friend and attorney Steve Himmelfarb promised the group that the humanitarian work Haley started would continue. “I lost a best friend, but I will never lose his recipe [for life].”

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