04/15/08 — Scouts honor Sen. Kerr with citizen award

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Scouts honor Sen. Kerr with citizen award

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on April 15, 2008 1:50 PM

State Sen. John Kerr received the Distinguished Citizen Award from the Tuscarora Boy Scouts Council during a banquet Monday night at Walnut Creek Country Club.

Friends tried to roast Wayne County's retiring state senator, but every time they did, they ended up praising him.

State Senate President Marc Basnight started out teasing Kerr for his fashion sense. He said you could always tell when Kerr's wife, Sandra, was not in Raleigh.

"You can easily tell when he dresses himself," Basnight quipped.

But in the next breath, he said he had never seen any one with Kerr's compassion, concern and reality of life. When Downeast communities were going without the basic infrastructure need to boost its post-tobacco economy, Kerr helped come up with money for water and sewer projects to encourage industries to come to the region, he said.

"This is why I will miss him more than any other member who has ever left that body," Basnight said.

Basnight praised Kerr's integrity and effectiveness as a lawmaker. He recalled a day not long ago when Kerr walked into his office.

"He said, 'Chief, we have got to replace Cherry (Hospital).' .... A month later, he was back in my office," Basnight said.

He admitted that when he finally visited the local mental hospital, he was appalled.

"John took us into the bowels of that structure and the one in Morgan County. I couldn't believe we'd treat people and house them in facilities such as that," he said. "Now, we're replacing both, and that is because of John Kerr. ... John I salute you, as so many people do here tonight, but I salute you as a friend. You are a champion of the people and God's blessing."

Kerr's former law partner, Lindsay Warren, remembered when the future senator first came to his law firm years ago. Warren, Kerr, Walston, Taylor and Smith just had three names then, Taylor, Allen and Warren. Kerr was the youngest lawyer in the firm and got all the work nobody else wanted.

"He never complained, never thought he was being treated unfairly. He got to know our clients and soon attracted his own clients," said Warren, who retired from the law firm in 2001 after 50 years in practice.

Warren praised Kerr's dedication to his constituents when elected to the state House, then the Senate.

"People who had grievances against the state came to his office to tell him about their concerns. I don't think he ever turned away anyone who wanted to talk about their problems," Warren said. "John did a lot of that .... He did a lot of wonderful things for those people."

Word got around, and the constituents kept coming.

Congressmen do that sort of thing a lot, but Warren pointed out that congressmen have big legislative staffs to do it with.

"John has been flying on his own for 20 years," he said.

The Kerrs have two sons, John IV and James Kerr. And James Kerr spoke last before the award was presented.

He recalled his father's passion for young people. He said his father made sure he and his brother got to participate in Boy Scouts. To this day, Kerr is a member of the Boys & Girls Club board of directors.

He said his father loves dancing, and he loves the outdoors.

"And when he is not dancing or hunting," he said, "Dad could usually be found giving somebody a lecture -- about world politics or about how to behave."-