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In retirement, former town clerk finds peace in her kitchen and while teaching a global community of seniors how to cook

Marianne Kelly in her kitchen in Johnston, R.I.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

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Marianne Kelly said she knew it was time to retire from municipal government soon after the 2020 election season.

For more than two decades, Kelly oversaw elections in both Connecticut and Rhode Island. America has become more politically divided, and she saw first-hand the tension that had grown among families and friends. She recalled the “violence, hate, and horrible attacks” hurled at her and her colleagues for their work with elections.


By March 2021, she thought: “I think I’m done.”

”I loved the job, but the 2020 presidential election drained me. It was as if we [municipal government and election workers] were the enemy,” said Kelly. “I just couldn’t do it anymore.”

She retired in 2021 — three years earlier than she had planned — and felt like a fish out of water and unsure of what to do with her time. She started taking classes at Get Set Up, an online startup for people aged 55 and older to learn new skills and connect with others. Some of the classes were about chair and laughter yoga, how to sell your stuff online to downsize, and “healing foods.”

And then Kelly discovered the cooking classes.

Learning how to prepare new dishes made her think of time spent in her grandmother’s kitchen as a child, where her family’s friends — many of whom were Jewish — would combine their cultures and create flavorful dishes. On Sundays, they would host five-hour feasts, serving antipasti, vegetables, and various cuts of meats. “And I was just the wonderful receiver of these great foods,” recalled Kelly, who is turning 70 this year. “Eating away anything they put in front of me.”


Tofu "chicken" nuggets by Marianne Kelly, a retired town clerk, in Rhode Island.HANDOUT

She leads a fairly plant-based lifestyle due to her personal grappling with animal mistreatment and the environmental impact of factory farming. That doesn’t count, Kelly says with a chuckle, when she has her annual lobster roll every summer: “I do live in Rhode Island, after all.” But when she found out about the startup’s upcoming cookbook, she offered up a recipe she typically makes for her grandchildren (who are 8 and 4): tofu chicken nuggets.

The cookbook, which published in February, features profiles of recipe contributors around the world alongside their dishes — including Kelly’s. She even learned how to host her own virtual cooking demonstration to show a group of dozens of seniors how to make the dish. “I can’t believe I, in my tiny little kitchen, literally taught a cooking class! What a dream come true,” said Kelly.

She stopped spending a fortune to purchase vegan cheeses, yogurts, and dressings and starting making her own at home. She’s learning more through the platform, and hopes to get another recipe published soon. It almost makes her wish she retired earlier, she said.

”Cooking is what totally allowed me to find peace again,” said Kelly. “I’m doing things I never thought I’d be capable of. There’s no more negativity. There’s just a lot of good food.”

Alexa Gagosz can be reached at Follow her @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.