East Enders Lori Parham and Matthew Kennedy on aging and advocacy, staying active, and looking ahead
Styling by Carrie Montgomery
Photographed by The Portland Regency Hotel and Spa
Nested together among the blueberry bushes and native Maine perennials that fill Lori Parham and Matthew Kennedy’s backyard—one of the stops on the Friends of the Eastern Promenade’s Hidden Gardens of Munjoy Hill tour this past summer—is a pair of kayaks. Early one morning shortly after the tour, with the sun rising above Casco Bay right in front of them, the married couple put in at the East End Beach and paddle the mile out to Fort Gorges for a picnic breakfast. At an hour when most of us are just getting up, they return home to begin their work days: Parham as state director for AARP Maine, and Kennedy, who works remotely, as a managing director for the ERS Group, a national economic consulting firm.
Four years after moving to Portland, the pair has settled into an easy, idyllic Maine lifestyle, mixing myriad outdoor activities—in addition to kayaking, they hike, bike, run, snowshoe, and cross-country ski—with career accomplishment, as well as working for social good. It’s all a welcome change from Tallahassee, Florida, where the couple met and previously lived. Their introduction was arranged by Kennedy’s mom, whom Parham knew through Tai Chi classes. “It took me six months to call, and when I finally did, it was when my parents were out of the country,” Kennedy laughs, recalling both his and Parham’s initial reluctance about a parental setup. They had each been considering leaving Florida, with Maine on Parham’s radar ever since she worked summers at her aunt and uncle’s bed and breakfast in Bar Harbor. “At 18, I knew this felt like home,” she says.
Parham and Kennedy recognized their chance when an opportunity opened up at AARP Maine. After holding a similar position in Florida, Parham feels Maine’s much smaller, but significant, aging population means she can make more of a difference. “It feels really good to fight for people who don’t always have a voice, and to engage and energize them to have a voice for themselves,” she says. “And what I love about Maine is that you can really see that you’re having an impact with the work that you do.”
She works on policy issues at the state and federal level and more recently, on a local level, too. Under former mayor Michael Brennan, Portland was the first city in Maine to sign on to the AARP network of age-friendly communities. “It’s working with citizen activists to ensure that our communities are places where everyone will want to live and age over time,” she says. “And personally, I’m invested because I want to live here for the rest of my life.” That means everything from supporting caregivers, to hosting a free members’ night at the Portland Sea Dogs, to, coming up in December, a brunch and performance of A Christmas Carol at Portland Stage.
At ERS, Kennedy manages labor economists and statisticians who conduct data analysis on fair hiring and employment practices. He took a position with the company thinking it would be temporary while working towards his PhD in architectural history, but wound up staying, leaving academia behind 22 years ago. His expertise in research and analysis has popped up in his more recent endeavors—from writing a series of articles for the Munjoy Hill Observer on the 58 Fore Street redevelopment, to his former role as the treasurer of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization, and now, as the president of the Friends of the Eastern Promenade (FEP).
As evening approaches, Parham changes out of her work attire—a green silk floral shell and slim navy pants paired with beaded earrings— to throw on a sundress and sandals. Kennedy, having worked from home, is already casual in light brown shorts, striped shirt, and sandals.
They take their playful rescue puppy for a walk on the beach, near the kayak launch, a popular spot that is expected to undergo some changes in the next two years. Thanks to Kennedy’s work with FEP, plans are underway for the East End Waterfront Access Project, which will improve safety and access around East End Beach for non-motorized personal watercraft. Projects include a new ramp, a wash-down station, and a rebuilt stairway for high-tide access.
It’s a development that Kennedy is proud of and is now fundraising for, something that’s come together after several meetings with the public, the city, and nonprofit stakeholders such as Friends of Casco Bay, Portland Trails, and Friends of Fort Gorges. “Portland is both a special enough place that it’s worth the effort to get involved and have some impact, and it’s also a small enough place that you can do that,” he says. Having moved here only four years ago, the couple have purposefully and passionately immersed themselves in—and impacted—the community. “This really feels like home for us, and so it matters,” Parham says. “We feel like we need to be a part of what’s happening here.”