Kelley shares Memphis stories as Public Defender assistant

Memphis Standout profile for The Memphis Daily News

Nov. 8, 2013

Lurene Kelley loves to tell a good story. These days she’s sharing some important stories that often go unheard in her role as special assistant for organizational communications in the law offices of the Shelby County Public Defender.

She is involved with organizational and external communications for the office, as well as internal planning on special projects and public outreach.

One of those recent projects is Street Court for those with outstanding court debts to have them forgiven. It’s a second chance for them to get on with their lives and become productive citizens.

“It seems like a small thing,” Kelley said. “They can pile up into the tens of thousands, and the people that we’re helping are indigent. … It holds these people back.”

Kelley grew up in Butte, Mont., and went to Gonzaga University to study television journalism. As a reporter and anchor back in Montana, she met her future husband, Chris – then a minor league baseball player – and moved to Knoxville, where he was a student at the University of Tennessee. In 1995, when it came time for another move, she looked for work in four Southern cities. Memphis was the first to call.

“We came on the first day of Memphis in May,” she said. “It was the most fun time to move to Memphis, the weather was great and all the stuff going on. So we just kind of immediately fell in love, and we’ve been watching Memphis continue to change and evolve in a lot of ways.”

She went to work for WREG-TV as an on-air journalist. When the late-night police beat became too much, she began looking elsewhere for work and had to make the decision between a similar beat in a different city or returning to school.

She went to the University of Memphis and earned a doctorate in organizational communications. Teaching journalism at that level is a highly competitive field, and there was only one such position in Memphis at the time.

As her luck would have it, her professor – the holder of that one job – was retiring. She learned of the opening as she waited to walk at graduation . . . (read more)