The Beatles said it right: All you need is love; love is all you need. Those lyrics resonate on so many levels, but they seem particularly apropos after the loss of Delaware’s beloved restaurateur, Matt Haley.
In the outpouring of grief over Matt’s untimely death on Aug. 19 following a motorcycle accident in India, that four-letter expression of affection has often been used as an accolade in association with the amiable chef—and as a comfort to those left behind. “When Matt died, he died with his heart completely full of love,” said Mike Dickinson, director of operations for the Matt Haley Companies.
Baltimore chef Cyrus Keefer, who’d fine-tuned his cooking chops in Rehoboth, poured out his heart on Facebook: “We were left here to be ignited by [Matt] and to continue his amazing work and efforts of healing others with love.”
Matt openly shared his life’s journey from addict and inmate to successful businessman. And he was, indeed, someone who encouraged worthy deeds. While running eight successful downstate restaurants and other ventures, the busy entrepreneur founded a global charity to help at-risk children, performing many personal acts of kindness along the way. Like everyone else in Delaware and beyond, I was saddened and frustrated by his sudden death. It seemed so unfair to lose such a great man so soon. At the time, the 53-year-old was on a trip in the high mountains of India. Adventure was only part of the reason he was there. Matt was also on a mission to help local villagers.
His outreach, along with his cooking skills, eventually came to the attention of the James Beard Foundation, which awarded him its prestigious 2014 Humanitarian of the Year Award. It’s an honor he shares with such past recipients as Emeril Lagasse, Alice Waters and Paul Newman.
Matt’s acceptance speech at the New York awards gala in May garnered a heartfelt standing ovation. See for yourself here, where you can also view his motivational talk to a sold-out audience at TEDxWilmington, just a few days before he left for India. Organizer Ajit George shared his feelings about Matt and the event: “He had a higher purpose in life, as he explains in this video that day. If you’re like me, you’ll need tissues.”
Instead of tears, Matt would want us to focus on his philanthropy. Donations in his memory can be made at www.theglobaldelawarefund.com. It might not be as selfie-indulgent as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, but it could make a difference in a big way.
Sadly, I never had the pleasure of meeting Matt in person, though I’ve been to his restaurants and, as a member of the Association of Food Journalists, followed his impressive career. As the news of his fatal accident spread, I felt so connected to my fellow Delawareans. We had embraced this Washington, D.C., native who called the state home. It made me realize that I’m in a good place, where people look out for their own.
There’s only one word to describe it: Love.