A celebration of the life of Charles W. (Bill) Kerr, formerly of New Britain, will be held at the New Britain Museum of American Art on Saturday February 27, 2010, at 1 p.m.
Kerr, 78, died on February 2, 2010 in his home at Sun City, Hilton Head, SC. A Missouri native, Kerr was a professor emeritus of Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) and served a Chair of the Political Science Department at CCSU.
In the early ‘80s I first met Bill Kerr and his wife Marietta at a meeting of the Caucus of Connecticut Democrats (CCD) a few years before moving to New Britain. Thanks to connecting with Kerr outside of the city, I got a quick introduction to the New Britain Democratic establishment when I moved here and was fast-tracked into local politics – winning a seat on the Democratic Town Committee in ’86, and beginning what’s turned into 24 years of being involved in campaigns and elections.
Meeting Kerr at the CCD – the liberal group that in its heyday mobilized Dems for direct primaries, civil rights and an end to the war in Vietnam – was no accident. Bill Kerr, the partisan, was an unabashed progressive – supporting liberal candidates and favoring groups such as the Legislative Electoral Action Program (LEAP) and the Connecticut Citizen Action Group (CCAG).
Though I was never in one of his classes, Kerr, the teacher, had keen insights and possessed a wry and dry sense of humor about politics that you would have had to be around to appreciate. Those attributes, not to mention a Ph.D in political science, commanded respect from the left and right, and from Rs and Ds in Connecticut.
At CCSU, Kerr had a good run of organizing conferences and workshops, bringing experts and pols of all stripes together. One year it would Cong. Nancy Johnson. The next it would be Barney Frank. He organized these forums under his Institute for Practical Politics (IPP), a fitting name at an institution drawing many sons and daughters of the working class to become teachers and professionals or, in some cases, local and state elected officials. Kerr’s Institute was no high falutin’ think tank, but a series of “practical” sessions among academics and citizens on policy and political strategy. Kerr’s knowledge of CT politics and players always made IPP conferences informative and helped extend his teaching of politics and government well beyond the classroom.
When someone we know and respect dies it can be a comfort to say we are better persons for having known that person. In Bill Kerr’s case, I and I’d guess many of his students would say we are better citizens for having known him as fellow activists or students.
-- John McNamara