Walter S. Kerr Jr.

Tue, 04/09/2013 - 11:00am

Walter S. Kerr Jr., MD, died March 31, 2013 at St. Andrews Hospital in Boothbay Harbor with members of his family by his side, after a brief illness.

Walter was born August, 18, 1918 at the Homeopathic Hospital in Boston to Walter S. Kerr and Nellie Raps Kerr and grew up in Cohasset, Mass.

As a young boy, he spent many afternoons at nearby Oaks Farm, which his father managed and which was renowned for prize winning Guernsey cattle. “Buddy” accompanied his father on cattle buying trips to the Isle of Guernsey in the English Channel and tours of Europe.

In the 1920s, Cohasset was a small, rural town with many hunters. Walter developed an interest in taxidermy and completed a taxidermy correspondence course from The Northwest School of Taxidermy.

Walter quickly developed a reputation with the local hunters as a skilled taxidermist. To his mother’s distress, many a night, neighbors would bring deer, sea ducks and other wildlife to Buddy for him to stuff and mount. Eighty years later, a red squirrel on the sun porch wall still watches sailboats and lobster boats off Squirrel Island.

Walter graduated from Thayer Academy in 1935, Harvard University in 1939 and the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1943. During his freshman year at Harvard, he met Olive McIlwain, whom he courted for five years until they were married upon her graduation from Connecticut College in 1940. In 1943 he began his internship at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).

On November 28, 1942, the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Boston was gutted by a horrific fire in which 492 people were killed and hundreds injured. Walter was one of the many doctors who treated the burn victims at MGH.

In 1944, Walter entered the Medical Corps of the United States Army. He served at various Army hospitals across the country before being deployed to the European Theater, where he served with a field hospital stationed in Belgium. He was discharged with the rank of Captain in 1946.

After his discharge, Walter returned to the MGH to resume his training as a resident in surgery and urology which he completed in 1949. He was a member of the Urology Service at the MGH from 1947 until 1987, rising from instructor of surgery at the Harvard Medical School to the position of Clinical Professor in Surgery in 1981, a position that he held until 1985.

Walter was a member of a number of surgical societies, including American Urological Association, serving as President from 1976-1977, the American Medical Society, the New England Surgical Society, the Clinical Society of Genito-Urinary Surgeons, the Society of Pelvic Surgeons, La Societe Internationale d’Urologie and the American Society of Fertility. He was also a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons. He authored 45 clinical articles and presented papers at numerous conferences in the United States and South America during his career.

His term as President of the American Urological Association was marked by his strong interest in educating the urological community to the necessity of controlling medical costs. To that end, he established the “Walter S. Kerr Jr. Prize Essay Contest of the American Urological Association,” which provides an award for the paper judged most deserving on cost containment methods from a Resident in Urology.

In 1996, theWalter S. Kerr Jr. Professorship in Surgery (Urology) at the Harvard Medical School was endowed in his honor. The chairman of the Department of Urology at the MGH holds that appointment.

Walter was a born teacher. He taught clinical surgical skills to medical students from Harvard and MGH interns and residents from around the world during his entire career. In 1964, he volunteered to work for six weeks on the S.S. HOPE, the world’s first peacetime hospital ship which at that time was moored in Conakry, Guinea, located on the west coast of Africa. Before he left to fly to Africa, Walter talked to returning doctors and inquired as to what supplies were most urgently needed on the ship. He then approached his colleagues in Boston seeking donations of surgical equipment and supplies which he took with him on his flight.

Walter was an active sportsman, sailor and skier all of his life. His fly fishing trips took him to Iceland, throughout the Canadian Maritimes and Scotland. One of his great loves was the World War II wooden lifeboat he named Rijkel, on which he took his family on picnics and many cruises Down East on the coast of Maine, reaching Cape Breton, Nova Scotia one summer. His interests included the genealogy of his family.

After he retired, Walter and Olive traveled extensively to every continent except Antarctica. He had a life long habit of researching the cultures, history and geography of the places that he planned to visit. He also embraced the modern world of cell phones, computers and the Internet.

Walter enjoyed the companionship of many friends both young and old on Squirrel Island, where he spent time with his family since being introduced to the island by Olive who had spent summers there all of her life.

After living in Milton, Mass., for 55 years, in 2010, Walter and Olive moved to St. Andrews Village Retirement Community in Boothbay Harbor to be near family members. Shortly after their move, Walter, true to form, was on a first name basis with the local librarian.

Olive, Walter’s wife of 73 years died on February 15, 2013 at the age of 94.

Walter is survived by his three sons, Scott and his wife Meredith of North Yarmouth, John and his wife, Debby of Milton, Mass., and Robert Kerr of Trevett; and grandchildren and spouses, James (Ann), Sarah (Dan), Timothy, Ethan (Stephanie), Margaret (Joseph), Duncan, Fiona and Brooks. A fourth son, David, predeceased both Olive and Walter.

Donations in Walter’s name may be made to the Davenport Library, Squirrel Island, Maine, c/o Betty Powell, Treasurer, 20 Walker St., Newtonville, MA 02460, or the Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library at 4 Oak St. Boothbay Harbor, ME 04538.

There will be a reception to celebrate the lives of Walter and Olive on June 1, 2013, from 1-4 p.m. at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, 132 Botanical Gardens Drive, off Barters Island Road in Boothbay.