The late John Kerr did not like stoplights.
And he was not shy about letting anyone -- especially his fellow legislators -- know his feelings, Gov. Roy Cooper said pointing to a new sign dedicating a section of the stoplight-free U.S. 70 Goldsboro Bypass in memory of the late state senator.
More than 100 people attended the Friday morning sign dedication and unveiling ceremony held in the Wayne County Courthouse historic Courtroom No. 1.
The five-mile section of bypass stretches from the highway's interchange with Interstate 795 to U.S. 13.
The late Kerr, one of the most powerful members of the state General Assembly, championed improvements to state infrastructure, including the bypass and the I-795 designation for a four-lane U.S. 117 between Goldsboro and Wilson.
Born in Warrenton, Kerr was a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After receiving his bachelor's degree, Kerr attended the University of North Carolina Law School, receiving a law degree with honors in 1961.
Kerr was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 1986, serving three terms before being elected to the state Senate, where he served from 1992 until 2008.
"He was loud, you could hear his whisper at about 30 paces, so you knew what he was talking about," Cooper said. "He was bluntly and sometimes brutally honest with you and everyone else. Even when he was bluntly and brutally honest, you still liked him because it was about an issue. It was about something that he cared about a great deal."
Kerr loved his family, Wayne County, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, the UNC Tarheels, small businesses and "jobs, jobs, jobs," Cooper said.
What he didn't love were stoplights, he said.
"John Kerr could tell you how many stoplights there were between Goldsboro and Raleigh," Cooper said. "And he kept a running tally. He would often stand up on the floor of the Senate and tell you how many stoplights there were."
Kerr was going to make it easier for people to get from one place to the next, Cooper said.
He knew that transportation was needed before the state could have "jobs, jobs, jobs," he said.
Kerr had a keen mind and didn't like stupid budget appropriations that took away from the basics, Cooper said.
"He was a Democrat, but he hated putting partisanship over good policy," he said. "That is the way all of us should be.
"Thank you for letting me be here and be a part of this. This was an easy one for me. I had a good time thinking back over my life and relationship with this man, Sen. John Kerr. What a great friend he was to me and mentor in many respects."
North Carolina is a great state because of people like Kerr who dedicated his life to the betterment of other people even when he had the abilities to do other things, Cooper said.
He was not cocky or full of himself despite being from a famous family and being a powerful political figure, Cooper said.
"John Kerr was a friend. It is unquestioned the good that he did for people," he said
Kerr worked on water, sewer, infrastructure, natural gas, UNC, the dental school at East Carolina University, Cherry Hospital -- the list goes on and on of the tangible benefits that he created, Cooper said.
Many in the audience knew Kerr for what he was and not for what he did, Cooper said.
"And you loved him like I do," Cooper said. "I am grateful for this man and his family and for this community. It is an honor for me to be here and to be a part of this."
Kerr's son, John H. Kerr IV, said his father did not see black or white, Republican or Democrat, rich or poor or social status.
"He wanted to help people. That was what he was about," Kerr said.
Son James Y. Kerr II said that on Mondays heading to Raleigh and then on Thursdays heading back home that his father worked his old box cell phone.
"I am sure one of the reasons we got the Clayton bypass and the Smithfield bypass and, ultimately, this one is that everybody in Raleigh wanted to get him from the legislature back home and off that damn phone," he said.
"He would be embarrassed about all of this. He was such a simple person. He loved Wayne County. He loved this place. He thought it deserved his very best. He worked hard. He was a servant leader. He would be mortified by this sign. He would have argued against it, but we are grateful for it."
Kerr said his father would have been late to ceremony because he would have been so busy visiting all of the different offices in the courthouse.
Kerr's widow, Sandra, and other family members also were in attendance.
Master of ceremonies Gus Tulloss of Rocky Mount, who represents District 4 on the state Board of Transportation, said it was a special occasion honoring a man who had made a tremendous impact on the state.
Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon said the state has been working to improve the U.S. 70 corridor between Raleigh and Morehead City for a "long, long time."
Significant progress has been made in recent years, and there are several more key projects in the pipeline ahead, he said.
"I can't think of a more fitting way to honor Sen. John Kerr than by naming this section of road for him in his honor," he said. "He was one of our biggest champions in all of the challenges that we faced, in all of the questions, in all of the struggles to find more financing, more ways to accelerate (projects)."
Trogdon said during his time working at the DOT and in the legislature that no area had had as strong an advocate for transportation than eastern North Carolina had in Kerr.
At-large Wayne County Commissioner Wayne Aycock said he and Kerr were friends.
He read a letter from state Rep John Bell, who was unable to attend because of a previously scheduled meeting.
In his letter, Bell said that Kerr worked tirelessly in many capacities.
"We are a better community because of his tireless work," Bell wrote in the letter. "Thank you to a public servant who gave selflessly his time and energy."
Kerr was a big man not only in stature, but in heart and integrity, Aycock said.
"He was loud," he said. "His language could be colorful, but John was respected, and that is why he could get things done. He was man of his word. He meant to serve and be a leader. He taught me a lot. John Kerr was a great man."
Sen. Don Davis, who followed Kerr in the state Senate, said he, too, had his share of John Kerr stories.
Kerr truly loved people, Davis said.
"Sandra, Jim and John and everyone who is here today, I could never fill his shoes," he said. "What an awesome legacy -- big John Kerr."