Obituary: W. Gregg Kerr / Lawyer who raised family on Butler farm

Oct. 30, 1927 - March 2, 2014

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W. Gregg Kerr and his wife, Jane, dreamed of raising their children on a farm.

In the late '50s, they achieved their dream, buying a 150-acre lot in Butler County. When Mr. Kerr had free time from his day job as a lawyer, he and his five children worked the farm, raising cattle, horses, sheep, chickens and ducks.

"It meant a lot to us," said Robert Kerr, Mr. Kerr's son. "Dad's whole thing was to be self-sufficient, and the way to teach us that was to be on the farm."

William Gregg Kerr of Saxonburg died Sunday of leukemia. He was 86.

He was born in Pittsburgh on Oct. 30, 1927, to William Gregg Kerr, who worked in real estate, and Catherine Evans Kerr. He spent his childhood in Wilkinsburg.

Growing up during the Depression helped mold Mr. Kerr's personality, his son Brian Kerr said.

"That had an impact both on his parents and on him, in terms of valuing things in life, and how not to waste, and enjoying the fruits that you've earned," Brian Kerr said.

Mr. Kerr joined the U.S. Navy shortly before his graduation from high school and was in training when World War II ended.

After being discharged in 1947, he earned an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

While a student at Cornell, Mr. Kerr worked as an ambulance driver. That's how he met his wife, Jane Backus Kerr, who worked as a technician in a hospital. They married in 1951. She died in 1982.

On his farm, Mr. Kerr cultivated a panoply of hobbies, including photography, beekeeping, fishing, woodworking and shooting. A licensed pilot, he flew his children to Owasco Lake in New York, where their grandmother lived.

Mr. Kerr also devoted himself to law, admiring its logic, its importance to society and the challenge of presenting arguments in front of judges and juries, Brian Kerr said. He practiced for more than 40 years at Eckert, Seamans, Cherin & Mellott in Pittsburgh.

In the '70s, Mr. Kerr led the firm's efforts on behalf of Alcoa Properties Inc. to redevelop the Allegheny Center neighborhood.

He spent several years helping Alcoa deal with the complications of land titles and regulations in order to accomplish a neighborhood-wide renewal, his colleague Dale Hershey said.

Mr. Kerr left a strong mark on the firm by opening its Washington, D.C. office and expanding its international contacts, including a foray into China in the early 1990s. He served as chairman of the International Lawyers' Group, which connects firms from different countries so they can help each other solve legal issues that cross national borders.

Mr. Hershey remembers an instance in which Mr. Kerr invited members of the group to his farm. He took the group, hailing from distant parts of the globe, on a hayride.

"Everyone just loved the experience," Mr. Hershey said. "To them, it was a true American thing."

Around the firm, Mr. Kerr also was known for his pride in his Scottish heritage. He would often attend formal functions wearing a kilt.

About 10 or 15 years ago, Mr. Kerr started winding down his career, Brian Kerr said. In his retirement, he spent more time on his farm and traveled widely with Gretchen Hart, his partner of more than 20 years. They visited Bermuda, Scotland, Italy and Spain, as well as many other places.

Mr. Kerr battled prostate cancer for more than a decade, finally beating it into remission. His death from leukemia came suddenly; he didn't realize he had the cancer until about a week before he died, Brian Kerr said.

Mr. Kerr is survived by his children Stephen Kerr of Green Brook, N.J.; Brian Kerr of Pittsburgh; Douglas Kerr of Sarver; Robert Kerr of Ann Arbor, Mich.; and Wendy Recio of Cabot; his sister, Mary "Kay" Atteberry of Kansas City, Kan.; eight grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. today at Fox Funeral Home, 410 W. Main St., Saxonburg.

Memorial donations may be made to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, 1250 Fourth St., Santa Monica, CA 90401.


Richard Webner: rwebner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-4903


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