George Kerr — a gentleman and athlete
News of the passing of Mr George Kerr reminds us of a time when Jamaican athletes excelled in the half mile.
Following the exploits of the legendary Mr Arthur Wint in the late 1940s and early '50s, Mr Kerr — also an exceptional quarter miler — was among the last of the truly outstanding Jamaican half-milers.
Mr Seymour Newman, who ended competition — prematurely in our view — in the latter 1970s, was perhaps the last who could be so described.
Big, strong, highly talented and with a superb technique, Mr Kerr was described by track and field analyst Mr Bernie Panton in the 1988 publication World Beaters as "silky smooth but perhaps lacking a killer instinct". There are those who will say that the supposed absence of a killer instinct hurt him in the 800m final of the 1960 Olympics, when he secured bronze after being allegedly elbowed aside on the final bend.
He was perhaps at the pinnacle of his power in 1960 when — with Jamaica a part of the regional political Federation which would later collapse — he represented the British West Indies. At those Olympic Games in Rome, Mr Kerr won bronze medals in the 800m and the 4x400m. Medals apart, he will be remembered as among Jamaica's more enduring Olympians, representing his country and the wider Caribbean in 1956, 1960 and 1964.
With the level of professional coaching and tactical guidance now available to Jamaican athletes, Mr Kerr would very possibly have achieved far more in this day and age. For it is a matter of record that twice, in 1960 and again in 1964, he ran Olympic record times in the semi-finals of the 800m, only — as has already been said — to place third in the final of 1960 and then fourth in the 1964 final.
The records show that he was a dominant force in the latter 1950s and for much of the 1960s until his retirement. At the Pan American Games in 1959, he took gold and silver in the 400m and 800m and was part of the 4x400m relay team that won gold.
At the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff in 1958, Mr Kerr was a bronze medallist for the 4x440-yard relay team. Four years later in Perth, Australia, he was part of a relay team that landed the 4x440-yard relay gold. In a stirring duel with his famous rival, the great New Zealander Mr Peter Snell, he had to settle for silver in the 880 yards and in the 440 yards he took the bronze.
In newly Independent Jamaica in 1962, Mr Kerr had the satisfaction of being the first Jamaican athlete to be honoured with the playing of Jamaica's National Anthem in the brand new National Stadium during the Central American and Caribbean Games. He won the 400m and 800m and was part of the 4x400m relay gold medal winning team in those Games. The ultimate patriot, Mr Kerr would also have deeply prized his bronze medal over 880 yards — achieved well past his best at the Commonwealth Games in Kingston in 1966.
Those who knew Mr Kerr, including those few journalists who had the good fortune to interact with him professionally, will remember him as a fine gentleman. Indeed, he was the quintessential decent human being.
As his widow, Mrs Fay Kerr, explained to our reporter, her husband was always humble and never sought the limelight. It would never have occurred to him to blow his own trumpet.
Given the extraordinary achievements of Jamaican athletes since 1948, Mr Kerr will not be remembered in quite the same light as Wint, McKenley, Rhoden, Quarrie, Ottey, Campbell Brown, Bolt, et al. But those who were blessed to know him will readily recognise he was one of the finest human beings ever to represent Jamaica at any level.