Kerr, William J. (Pop)

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                                    WILLIAM J. (POP) KERR
                         The Miramichi had the good fortune to know him
                                      by Dave Butler

“How’s she goin’, good, eh?” That line was the signature of one of the most outstanding athletes, politicians, community workers and human beings that the Miramichi has ever had the great good fortune to know.

I refer, of course, to William J. (Pop) Kerr, who died May 2 at his home in Chatham in his 75th year. Pop had been ill for some time, but because of the great contribution he made to his community for so long, and because of his tremendous vitality, his death still came as a great shock to his legions of friends.

And his friends were indeed legions, as his huge and moving funeral clearly showed. “Pop got a great send-off, eh?” said one of his old pals, and although the old pal might have put it a bit colloquially his heart was in the right place – Pop did indeed get a “great send-off” and no man deserves it more.

                                     Pop was a remarkable man.  

He was one of the finest hockey players ever to come out of New Brunswick; he started a small business from scratch and built it into a most successful one; and he served his hometown as alderman from 1949 to 1963 and then as mayor from 1963 till 1967, when ill health forced him to step down.

That’s what the basic record shows, but what the record does not show are all the favours big and small, that Pop did for everyone – everyone who ever asked him for anything, and everyone who did not ask him for anything. Over the years, there were many people who, for one reason or another, would not ask Pop for a favour, even though they needed it. If Pop found out – and he usually did – that they needed the favour, then they got it and never with any obligation of paying it back

                                        Favour not a deal

Joe Duffy knew Pop well and worked with him in various ways over the years, and when I talked with Joe, I was especially interested in getting some comments on Pop the hockey player. “Oh, he was very good,” Joe told me, “really good – there were a lot of good players around in his day, the competition was really keen, and the North Shore was a booming hot bed of hockey and Pop was one of the very best. He played with some outstanding Maritime teams, not only in Chatham, where he got his start, but also in Truro, Bathurst and Dalhousie.”

“Dalhousie won a Canadian senior championship when Pop was with them.” Duffy said. “Then after that he went to England where he played against the top European teams before returning home in the late 1930’s. Pop was a center man, very smart with the puck, a smooth, fast strong skater and an excellent play maker. If you never saw Pop play (I didn’t),” Duffy said, “then maybe you’ll get some idea of his style if you compare him with (his son) Richard – Pop was about Richard’s size when he played, and, boy, could he fly! He wasn’t as big as (Pop’s other son) David, but like David, he was a very clean player, but he could level you with a solid check if need be. Yeah, both Richard and David inherited his great skating ability and some of his style. It was always exciting to watch Pop play,” Duffy commented.

John Crosbie, Chatham town treasurer throughout the time Pop was a councillor and mayor, fondly remembers: “Pop? Yeah, he was one of the very best. You always knew where you stood with him, and he was an excellent administrator and businessman. And he was very kind.”

                                 Keen sense of humour

He had a keen sense of humour, too? Crosbie chuckled at the question, maybe remembering some jest or witty remark of Pop’s, then replied: “Yes, he surely did, and he knew when and how to use it, too. Like at a meeting, for example, when now and then things might get a bit tense, there’d be Pop, tossing off a casual line that eased things up and kept everyone happy while at the same time keeping the meeting running smoothly.”

Ben O’Reilly was a member of town council throughout Pop’s career there, and Ben, too, has many fond memories of him. “He was a natural leader,” Ben says, “who always took the lead in community affairs. He was a great listener who always listened to both sides of any story before acting on it. He wasn’t real talkative: he led more in action then in words, but he always got the job done.”

                               Same business start

“Pop and I went into business the same year,” Ben recalled, “in 1937, and right across the street from each other. I had the stand (Ben’s) where it is now and he had the Ford dealership where Irving’s is now. Later, he and I had 15 or 16 years together on town council, so I knew him pretty well, and I can tell you, he did more charitable work than anyone will ever know. Pop never publicized such things and he discouraged anyone else from doing so, but he did an awful lot of charitable work. Especially after he got in the construction business,” Ben said. “There was always some fella short on cash who wanted a basement done or a house moved or a load of fill or whatever, and Pop was always there. In fact, if some people were too shy or embarrassed or uneasy to ask him, he’d find out about it and go ahead and do it.”

“And he wouldn’t take anything for it, either… he was a great man to have around” said Ben, and you could easily note the admiration in his voice, and Ben concluded, and he could easily have been speaking for Frank Kane, Joe Duffy, John Crosbie and thousands of other Miramichiers, “We’ll really miss Pop. He was one of a kind and a great one.”

Source: Miramichi Leader May 12, 1982

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