On the night of July 4, as Charleston and the rest of the country commemorated Independence Day under a barrage of fireworks, there was a celebration of another sort in Heaven as John Kerr was united with his Lord and maker, in whom he so passionately believed.
As a lawyer, John was a fiercely loyal advocate for his clients and a champion for freedom of the press.
He was recognized by Best Lawyers in America in the area of First Amendment law and was very proud of the many legal battles he fought over the years on behalf of The Post and Courier and other media sources. The Charleston legal community has lost yet another of its “old school” lawyers who have made our Bar so unique.
John was truly an independent thinker and, unlike more timid lawyers today, not afraid to lay it all on the line. By way of example, at the end of a hotly contested, three-week-long trial in 2001, he challenged the jury to deliberate for only 15 minutes and come back with a verdict for his client.
As John told the jury in closing argument, he wanted to beat his previous record for shortest jury deliberation, which was 19 minutes and which would have been quicker except, as one of the jurors in the old case had apologetically explained afterwards, another juror had unduly delayed matters by using the restroom. After 15 minutes, it appeared the jury might ignore John’s plea, but they emerged after minute 16 with a verdict for his client.
A new record. To know John as a lawyer, however, was to know only one aspect of the whole man, a true Citadel graduate.
Following graduation from The Citadel, he served his country in Vietnam, where he was a decorated war hero, being awarded the Bronze Star with First Oak Leaf Cluster, the Air Medal with First and Second Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Purple Heart. After graduating from USC Law School in 1973, John practiced law in Charleston for almost 40 years, during which he was active in the community.
He was a former Senior and Junior Warden and member of the choir at St. Philip’s Church. He was a co-founder and past president of the Charleston Men’s Chorus and the perennial master of ceremonies for the group’s Christmas and Memorial Day concerts, where he delighted audiences with his rapier wit.
He was involved early on with the concept of Books on Tape. John was also a world traveler and a world-class photographer.
I will always picture John, a fit and dapper man, in his seersucker suit and white bucks.
Several years ago, he changed his hairstyle, formerly reminiscent of John C. Calhoun’s, and adopted a Van Dyke beard, finally resembling a more slender and debonair Matlock.
A gutsy lawyer, a humble hero, a man of innumerable interests and talents, John will be sorely missed by his family and many friends. It is somehow fitting that such a fervent American patriot departed this Earth on Independence Day.
Good luck, John, and Godspeed.
Chuck Baker Attorney at Law
Exchange Street Charleston