Seacoast Profile: Jane Kelley
Politics and humor do not often mix these days
but as many Hampton residents know,
you get plenty of both when you are with Jane Kelley.
By Steve Dunfey
Seacoast Scene, Wednesday, April 30, 2008
[The following article is courtesy of Seacoast Scene.]
Kelley has been a fixture on Hampton scene since the early 70's. She is now retired from public life but is still active as a Justice Of the Peace. With a great Irish wit and a way with words (she was once editor of Seacoast After Dark, which now is Seacoast Scene), Kelley is best known for her service as a former State Representative and Town Clerk and she is still enjoying life at age 82.
A Hampton resident for 40 years, she started out in Texas, here her mother, Madeline Sullivan, ran a restaurant in Houston called Madeline's, Kelley says the restaurant was "very expensive. It was a place where people would show off their Neiman Marcus clothes. There were lots of millionaire's floating around. She is the largest importer of Lowenbrau beer." Kelley's parents divorced when she was three and a half years old and she wound up living with her grandparents. They were a wealthy family and Kelley attended prep school at Northfield Mount Hermon.
Kelley's family was not involved in politics. That would come after she became a military wife. "I was in the officer's wives club and a friend of mine desperately wanted to become a leader in the club," says Kelley. That was the most vicious politics I have ever seen. But we moved 23 times in 19 years. It was hard on the kids. I had to learn how to clean the house. We lived in Europe for 7 years. It was a very rewarding experience to live in those countries. The beer and wine in Germany were great! My husband Frank retired as a full colonel in the Air Force. I was surprised that in spite of me, he got promoted. We then split up as civilian"
Being near the water attracted Kelley to Hampton and she was soon-running for office herself, for the position of State Representative. She went door to door and handed out 1300 jars of jam in baby food jars. She ran as a Democrat in a Republican district consisting of Hampton and Hampton Falls. Kelley remembers being asked, "Have you ever held political office before?" to which she said: "No, I'm a political virgin." The questioner replied, "Isn't that wonderful that you are a virgin at your age." Largely due to the vote in Hampton Falls, she lost by 84 votes.
Kelley won the next election however and she went to Concord with a purpose. "The reason I went up there was to get collective bargaining for public employees." she says. "I have always been pro-labor. Grandpa Sullivan was pro-union down to his bones and he brainwashed me. I fought against the right to work bill. It was really a union buster. We have to take care of the working people."
Kelley first started out as a member of the Transportation Committee, which was not her first choice. When an opening came up on the Labor Committee, she took it. "I built up a nice bank account of friends. That's an achievement I am proud of." However, during the administration of Governor Jeanne Shaheen, Kelley switched parties and became a Republican. "I insulted her (Shaheen) in the newspaper and the House Democratic Leader Peter Burling took me off the Labor Committee and changed my seat and parking space. Party affiliation was not my priority, the Labor Committee was my priority. I had all that experience and had been on it a long time and it was a fun time. I became a Republican and House Speaker Gene Chandler put me back on the Labor Committee and he gave me my seat and space back, too."
"My philosophy is Democratic, but you do what you have to do," says Kelley. "I loved it and I had a good time. I couldn't be controlled by the leadership and they saw me as a loose cannon. I'm too independent. The Republicans were nicer to me than the Democrats, so I was a Republican for four years. Speaker Chandler was sweet and he knew how I was going to vote. I guess when you are in the majority you can afford to he generous." In 2006, with a change in leadership, Kelley was elected again as a Democrat. but then resigned at the end of 2007. "I couldn't drive home in the dark." she says. "I was burned out. After 30 years of public service, I was burned out. The thrill is gone."
Kelley was also elected Hampton Town Clerk 6 times for a total of 18 years. She remembers that service fondly. "I love people. When you do that you get it back. I treated them with respect. I set my own hours and vacations, but I took less vacations than usual. I also opened night hours, which was a first. It was a convenience for working people. When you are nice to everybody. you get it back."
Kelley is also an honorary member of the Teamsters and once spoke at a National Teamsters Unity Convention in Las Vegas. "I spoke to the convention about how I killed the right to work bill." she says. "I felt like I was among friends. I still go to meetings but I can't vote."
Another organization that Kelley is a member of is the Daughter's of the Potato Famine. The DPF is an organization she founded back in the 1970's when her political opposition included Republican State Representative Ednapearl Parr. Parr always made a note of her membership in the Daughter's of the American Revolution and Kelley came up with the Daughter's of the Potato Famine as a humorous antidote. She appointed herself as the `Supreme High Spud' and what started as a joke became an organization with over 600 members. "We had our first function at the Ashworth," Kelley says. "We didn't expect anyone. I couldn't believe how many showed up." For several years. more functions were held at Lamie's and Yoken's. The DPF attracted many fun loving citizens and politicians from all over New Hampshire. Humor was always on tap as awards were given out for 'Biggest Masher', the 'Boiled 'Potato Award', the 'French Fried Potato Award' and the Rotten Potato Award', which was once given to New Hampshire Governor Meldrim Thomson. Now the DPF is now just a fun memory. As Kelley puts it, "I quit drinking and that was the end of it."
In March of 2005, Kelley again poked fun at politicians who were then having fundraisers that were ethically and legally questionable. She threw her own party in order to raise money for her 'cremation fund'. Sponsored by the 'Friends of Jane Kelley'. 40 people paid 525.00 each to attend a function at The Eatery in Hampton. Political specialties were served, including 'curried favor, 'greased palm'. 'kick-back ribs' and 'graft beer'. Contributors were excused from attending her wake, funeral and the sending of floral tributes. This spoof made the front page of the Portsmouth Herald, where Kelley told them, "when I am cremated, the only thing I'm going to take with me is my Teamster membership card."
Although dealing with several health problems, Kelley is still going and injecting her trademark humor into her duties as Justice of The Peace. Several years ago she built the Little Grace Chapel in her backyard on Winnicunnet Road, which is available for weddings and civil unions. She has also become in demand for speaking at funerals (Kelley can be reached at 6O3-926-2903).
Although Kelley came close to moving to Mexico when she sold her house a few years ago, the sale fell through and Kelley is happy that it did. It was also lucky for the rest of us, who appreciate her commitment to the community.