There was a loyalty to Robert Kerr that left an indelible imprint on his student-athletes. The former high school track and football coach at Newfield, Ward Melville, Miller Place and Rocky Point was beloved for the devotion and care he had for his students.
Kerr, of Stony Brook, died at St. Charles Hospice surrounded by family and friends Aug. 3 after a long battle with prostate cancer. He was 67.
“He loved his students and always referred to each of them as, ‘his kids,’ ” said his son Robert Kerr, also of Stony Brook. “If a student wanted to play a sport but his or her family didn’t have the money to buy equipment, my dad would buy the equipment for them and he would do it anonymously — he never wanted people to know. He was a man of character.”
Kerr was born in Manhasset in 1949 and grew up in New Hyde Park before the family moved to Selden in 1962. He graduated from Newfield High School in 1967, where he played football and sprinted for the track team.
He graduated from Lambuth College in Jackson, Tennessee, with a bachelor’s degree in education in 1971 and received his master’s degree in education from Stony Brook University.
He worked as a social studies teacher for 33 years in the Middle Country School District from 1971-2004. He was a Civil War aficionado who loved American history and made it come alive with his myriad stories and anecdotes.
“I met Coach Kerr on October 19, 1984, on my first day as a substitute teacher at Newfield, and we’ve been friends ever since,” said Jerry Vessichio, who coached boys track with Kerr for 15 years. “He was a teacher that created an enjoyable atmosphere for learning that enveloped his students. His classes were enjoyed as much by the pupil as by the teacher. His relationship to his former students is second to none.”
Kerr earned a dozen teacher of the year awards from the Middle Country School District, and had a 42-year coaching career, highlighted by numerous coach of the year awards, including the Suffolk County boys track and field award in 2015.
He started in 1971 as a boys coach in winter and spring track and had successful stints at Newfield, Ward Melville and Rocky Point. Some of his greatest coaching achievements came in girls track at Newfield and Miller Place.
His Newfield boys won league titles in track in 1976, 1977 and 1978, and Newfield girls earned league honors in 1984. The Rocky Point boys won league titles in 2005 and 2006, the first league track titles in school history. He guided Ward Melville boys to the league crown in 2012, the first in the school’s 52-year history.
He coached Newfield football from 1987-1998, making the playoffs in 1990-91.
“He always said school is real life for kids and what happens in school matters,” his son said. “He never minimized their feelings in their struggles at home or at school and became a confidant. He stayed in touch with students from the beginning of his career to the end.”
Kerr became a fan of high school football after he retired and attended every Long Island Championship game since 1992. He would watch four high school games every Saturday with his son Rob, son-in-law Rob Maurer and brother Pat.
“He was so passionate,” Rob Maurer said. “He enjoyed watching all the great players. When Newfield won the Long Island Class II title, he was filled with pride for the program and community.”
Kerr is survived by his wife, Maria Kerr of Stony Brook; three children, Kristen Maurer of Stony Brook, Robert Kerr of Stony Brook and Jessica Spencer of Stony Brook; six grandchildren; his sister Maureen Leissman of Ronkonkoma; and his brother Patrick Kerr of Holbrook. A funeral Mass will be held tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. at St. James Catholic Church, 429 Route 25A, Setauket.