Mary Penny Kelley

Executive Director

Mary Penny Kelley is the Executive Director of Hometown Strong. She was one of the first hires for the team and worked with the Governor and key staff to design and launch the initiative. When the COVID-19 pandemic surged across the state, she took on the top leadership role and adapted the initiative to a virtual environment that could maintain relationships and support the urgent needs of rural communities.

Mary Penny began her public service career in 1997 in the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office where she represented the State in civil and criminal matters across a range of topics, including coastal development, land management, and water quality.

Mary Penny became the first woman to serve in the role of general counsel at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 2005 where she supported the purchase negotiations for iconic Chimney Rock, modernized public-private partnerships, and implemented measures to diversify the department’s staff and supply chain. In 2009, she added the duties of assistant secretary for information technology and guided the department through technology upgrades in a new environmentally sustainable headquarters. In 2012, Mary Penny became the chief deputy secretary overseeing all administrative functions of the department and fulfilling the secretary’s duties whenever needed. This included managing a department of over 1,000 employees and a budget of state and federal funds close to 1 billion dollars.

Beginning in 2013, she worked in the private sector for three years helping individuals and businesses navigate the regulatory maze of government.

In 2017, she returned to public service as the Senior Advisor for Policy and Innovation at the Department of Environmental Quality where she focused on clean energy issues, process improvement, and community engagement.

Mary Penny lives in Chatham County. She is a graduate of NC State University and Tulane University Law School.