'Live with the love they left behind'
Sharon Peele Kennedy had a way of making anything seem possible. Even in the face of adversity, Sharon persevered with courage, grace and a contagious charisma and gift of persuasion that made ordinary people feel like they could accomplish extraordinary things.
The keeper of Outer Banks culinary heritage in her seafood cookbook “What’s For Supper with Sharon Peele Kennedy,” on video and on radio stations Beach 104.1 and WCMS 945; a tireless champion for preserving not just Outer Banks but all of coastal North Carolina’s historic ways of life; and someone who fully understood the value of our state’s commercial fishing families, Sharon was a woman of action until the day she crossed the bar Friday, January 26, 2024.
The longtime NC Catch board member and force behind Outer Banks Catch and the Outer Banks Seafood Festival, Sharon brainstormed with the NC Catch team even in the days before her passing, sharing ideas for spreading the local seafood message, ensuring equitable access to coastal resources, telling the story of eastern N.C. fish stew, preserving Outer Banks food history and providing key contacts from her national network of leaders, influencers and change makers.
Sharon Peele Kennedy (seated second from right) on the NC Catch board in November 2023.
Drawing heavily on her own coastal roots, Sharon was beloved for her devotion to seafood cookery, teaching thousands of people how to find, select and prepare seafood harvested by N.C. commercial fishermen.
“I emphasize seafood done simply,” Sharon said in a 2019 article at Raising The Story, a blog focused on coastal N.C. culture. “Don’t cover your fish and shrimp with cheeses and sauces to where you can’t recognize that beautiful seafood that you’ve paid a premium dollar for…”
Sharon learned the art of simplicity from her parents and grandparents, Raising The Story reported. Her father, Maxton Peele, was a commercial long-haul and pound-net fisherman.
“Garlic, dill, and nutmeg never went into a pot of what he was cooking, I can tell you that!” Sharon said.
Every dish Sharon showcased included a dash of the advocacy that was her compass, whether she was demonstrating how to cook seafood at Farm Aid, the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum on the Outer Banks, the Outer Banks Seafood Festival, Outer Banks Day at the Docks, her radio programs or the N.C. State Fair.
“I went to the State Fair with 150 pounds of shrimp for an NC Catch cooking demonstration,” she recalled to Raising The Story. “And I had ten pound of potatoes, five pounds of onions and some salt meat. I carried the potatoes and onions and cornmeal because I knew we were going to be neighbors with House Autry breader mixes. I wanted to woo them with a pot of my stewed shrimp — maybe they’d like to sponsor one of our CATCH groups.”
Sharon Peele Kennedy shares seafood samples with a young boy at the N.C. State Fair.
Most recently, Sharon and her popular stewed shrimp recipe was featured in the new book “Grand Dishes: Recipes and Stories from Grandmothers of the World.” The book is a collection of blog posts at Matriarch Eats.
Sharon’s deep concern for the Outer Banks and its commercial fishing community was passed down through generations of her family. “Dad would take a bucket of fish around the village and give it to the elderly people for supper,” she told Raising The Story. “That was a Hatteras Island tradition.”
Sharon Peele Kennedy takes her family out for a boat ride off the Outer Banks.
Sharon was a go-to for seafood cooking advice even before her cookbook and radio shows. “I was running into people who’d say, ‘Oh, what are you cooking for supper?’ I’d find myself helping people put their meals together,” she told Raising The Story. The experience convinced Sharon to pitch the radio program “What’s for Supper” in 2009.
“I dedicate all of the shows to seafood because our local fishing communities have been put at an unfair disadvantage by many unnecessary and unfair regulations. I want to encourage people to go into seafood markets, ask for North-Carolina-caught seafood and support our local fishermen and women,” Kennedy told Raising The Story.
At Farm Aid, Sharon highlighted Outer Banks seafood cookery, arranged for local seafood to be delivered to events and spread the message of how commercial fishers, like farmers, are vital providers of food. Her voice was so strong that in 2023, she convinced David Senter, the seminal farmers rights advocate whose movement inspired Farm Aid, to be the keynote speaker at the 2023 NC Catch Summit in Nags Head.
At an NC Catch fundraising dinner that night, Sharon and her son, Jeffrey Kennedy, prepared hundreds of old-fashioned fish cakes that wowed diners and tugged at the heartstrings of Outer Banks families.
Sharon Peele Kennedy preparing traditional Outer Banks fish cakes at the 2023 NC Catch summit and Basnight's Lone Cedar Cafe in Nags Head.
In the past several months, Sharon had become active in issues around environmental equity and environmental justice.
Even her personal social media pages were full of posts encouraging action. She constantly featured local seafood harvesters, sellers and restaurants that serve local seafood. Recipes peppered the pages, as did inspirational quotes like this one she shared in October 2023.
“When we lose someone we love, we must learn not to live without them, but to live with the love they left behind.”
A memorial service to honor Sharon's incredible life is scheduled 10 a.m. February 12, 2024, at Our Lady of the Seas Catholic parish in Buxton, N.C.