Obituary: Virginia Byerly Kerr / Oakland resident's life was surrounded by music

Aug. 8, 1933 - Sept. 17, 2013

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Virginia Byerly Kerr's life was filled with music.

Her mother, Virginia Clingerman Byerly, was one of the five founders of the Pittsburgh Opera in 1940, and as a girl Ms. Kerr would listen to the fledgling opera company rehearse in her home on Lytton Avenue in Oakland.

As an adult, she and her husband, Arthur Kerr Jr., pursued opera, its recitatives and arias, in grand opera houses as they traveled throughout the nation and around the globe.

Ms. Kerr of Oakland died Sept. 17 due to cardiac arrest after choking at PNC Park before a Pirates game, another of her passions. She was 80.

"Virginia occupied a very loved position within the Pittsburgh opera family," said Christopher Hahn, general director of the opera company. "She was very supportive of the opera, and it was, I have been told, her greatest passion."

The Pittsburgh Opera issued a statement, saying Ms. Kerr "was a member of the Pittsburgh opera family longer than anyone else," adding that she displayed "enormous affection and generosity" to the company throughout her life.

In addition to her seats at the Pittsburgh Opera, she was a regular at the Pittsburgh Symphony and Pittsburgh Ballet, and made numerous trips to the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, the Glimmerglass Opera in upstate New York, and the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico, as well as numerous trips to operas in Europe.

Among her favorites, according to Mr. Kerr, were "The Ring," a cycle of four operas by Richard Wagner, and Mozart's "The Magic Flute," along with "any classical opera, really."

Ms. Kerr, a Pittsburgh native, attended the Falk School and was a 1951 graduate of the Ellis School where she was freshman class president, served as student council president her senior year and was a four-year member of the glee club.

She participated on the field hockey, basketball and softball teams, the skating club and was a member of the varsity field hockey and basketball teams. In 2006 she was inducted into the Ellis School Sports Hall of Fame.

She was a 1955 graduate of Wellesley College, where she studied botany and sat on the board of directors of Kerr Engineered Sales Co., her husband's family business, which provides services to the oil and gas industry.

With her husband, she was a choir member at Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church for 15 years and the Shadyside Presbyterian Church for 10 years.

In addition to being an opera buff, Ms. Kerr was an early advocate for recycling. During the family's residence in O'Hara, while her children were in school in the early 1970s, she started a recycling center because there wasn't one in the township. Eventually she established five centers, including one at the Fox Chapel High School, which earned her the nickname "Trash Lady of Fox Chapel."

She taught kindergarten at the Ellis School, sailed for a time on Chesapeake Bay and was a master gardener. She was also a world traveler; she and her husband traveled to six of the seven continents and have been to each of the 50 states, completing the list last year in Alaska. She referred to herself as the family "scribe" and kept detailed notes and accounts of all her trips.

"She was a feisty and very bright woman who had a lot to offer the world," said her daughter, Cynthia Kerr of Nairobi, Kenya. "She has a photographic memory for music and botany."

Over the last 10 years, her health had declined with the onset of dementia, but her interest in music never waned, Mr. Hahn said.

"Over the last years she became more withdrawn, but whenever she heard music of singing her concentration would return and her face would light up, completely in the moment and enjoying it," Mr. Hahn said. "She was surrounded by music all the time."

In addition to her husband and daughter Cynthia, she is survived by three other children, Kathryn Cooper of Canonsburg, David Kerr of Bethel Park and Thomas Kerr of O'Hara; a sister, Rebecca Byerly of Pittsburgh; and seven grandchildren.

A funeral service was held at the John A. Freyvogel Sons Funeral Home Friday. A memorial service is scheduled for 4 p.m. Oct. 28 in the Founders Room at the Pittsburgh Opera, 2425 Liberty Ave., Pittsburgh.

The family asks that donations be made to the Pittsburgh Opera, 2425 Liberty Ave., Pittsburgh 15222, or First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, 320 Sixth Ave., Pittsburgh 15222.

obituaries

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.


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