In Memory

Bill Kerr

May 5, 1937 - January 31, 2023

Professor William Kerr passed away on January 31, 2023, in Wiesbaden, Germany, from the effects of a fall and dementia. He was 85 years old.

He was known as Bill to his family and many friends, who mourn the loss of his humor, intelligence, and sparkling, engaging conversations. Over the course of his many-faceted life, he was a writer, scholar, athlete, university professor, photographer and videographer, dancer, traveler, prolific correspondent, mentor, proud father, and always, a philosopher.

The people in Bill's life cherished his ever-youthful curiosity, irreverent spirit, and unique intellect. His friendships spanned countries and endured throughout his long life, nurtured and sparked by his commitment to writing the most amazing letters and emails, and his delight in long phone chats when it wasn't possible to meet up in person.

William Osborne Kerr, Jr. was born on May 5, 1937 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to William Osborne Kerr, Sr., a clothing salesman, and Margaret (McCarten) Kerr, a registered nurse. He showed early promise and athletic ability, and was active in student politics and sports at Stratford High School. He graduated from St. Bonaventure University with a philosophy degree in 1958. He earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Buffalo in 1961 and 1969, respectively.

In 1959, he married Joan Barbara Odrzywolski, and by 1964, the couple had three daughters. He was stationed as an Army lieutenant at Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX in 1959 to fulfill his ROTC commitment. The family lived there until they moved to San Jose, CA in 1967, where Bill was an assistant professor at Santa Clara University.

He and Joan divorced in 1973. Bill lived in Berkeley, CA for a few years, working with Chapman University. In 1976, he received an M.A. in Psychology from Antioch College. He began teaching philosophy, religion, psychology, and more for the University of Maryland overseas military program in the late 1970s. That work took him all over Europe, from Iceland to Spain, and even Kosovo. Most of his classes were based in Frankfurt, and in 1985 he settled in Wiesbaden, in the book-filled apartment that would be his home for the next 38 years.

He retired from the University of Maryland in 2014, and continued to be active in planning and attending academic and philosophy conferences and events until a few years ago. He was also a member of the Democrats Abroad Germany, Wiesbaden/Mainz Chapter.

Bill is survived by his daughters Lauren, Rachel, and Jennifer, and his grandchildren Joana, Gabriel, and Grace. His sister Mary Taylor Kerr Gutierro survives him, along with her children Maurice Gutierro (Tanya) and Michelle Mackey; and two grand-nephews.

His dear friends Anni Cecil and Linda and Stefan Schmitt were by his side and gave him immense support and comfort during the last few months of his life.

Bill's ashes will be interred in the family plot in Mountain Grove Cemetery in Bridgeport. Bill cared so much about writing and teaching - you may choose to honor his memory by making a contribution to Chapter 510, a nonprofit youth writing and publishing center.


The following was submitted by colleague Bruce Hull:

On the last day of January 2023, Dr. William Kerr, 85, passed away in Wiesbaden.  This long-serving professor of philosophy had been associated with the European Division since 1978 on up to his retirement in 2014   As reported to OMA earlier, Dr. Kerr had suffered a bad fall in September and hit his head.  The episode led to a case of subdural hematoma, and while there had been early hopes for recovery, additional falls and complications ultimately resulted in his death.  

The above opening paragraph is a rather simple and even sterile characterization of our colleague’s career and final months here in Europe.   It does nothing to convey his personality and the impact he had on friends, students and associates in the Maryland community.   Even the name you read above misses the mark.   There was no Dr. William Kerr other than on official paperwork issued by UMUC.   Ninety five percent of his waking hours he was Bill Kerr, the name he used and the name that exemplified his unpretentious character. 

Bill was an inspired conversationalist and correspondent, as so many friends and acquaintances know. The topics he discussed could run from serious to absurd, with themes that included art house films, recent books read, stateside political developments, human sexuality, and the problems created by encroaching business management control in American universities.   This latter theme led him to devote five years of his life serving on UMUC’s worldwide Faculty Advisory Committee, an effort that ultimately proved unsuccessful in reversing Adelphi’s drive to install its own version of managerial centralism.

Bill was not a know-it-all issuing pronouncements from on high but instead an opinionated individual willing to explore all angles of a question.   He showed himself able to learn and change his thinking when the evidence merited a revision of thought.  He stood firm, though, when opposing arguments could not muster the reason and logic necessary to sway his opinions.   And always, whenever the conversation grew serious, Bill knew how to throw in a zinger to bring out a laugh.  I once complained about a pay check lost in the mail, and Bill soothingly recommended that I take a train to Heidelberg and kill the head accountant.

This was an interesting side to Bill.   Topics of conversation were usually serious, but as one Maryland colleague noted, Bill had a bit of the devil in him.   He could effortlessly lob a ‘violent’ non-sequitur into the discussion that jarred the senses and produced a smile.  He once informed me that he had bought a .38 Police Special so he could shoot out his TV the next time FOX came on.  He saw himself as an equal opportunity hater of cable news and reported himself ready to gun down CNN too. 

The man was an intense conversationalist, and a great one at that.  One of my favorite memories of Bill is a spring day when he, colleague Debra Rosenthal, and I took a long walk through downtown Washington DC.   The running dialog turned to topics so varied as Carl Jung, the Dutch painter Vermeer, Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln’s Malice Towards None speech, and several other additional themes.   The conversation rolled on, and we ended our tour in front of the Vietnam war memorial.  Bill told us he wanted to track down the name of a friend who had been killed during the war.   We found the friend’s name chiseled into the wall, and as Bill’s index finger traced the name, he clearly became rattled.   Even though he had known the fate of his comrade long before our day in Washington, the sadness of a friend’s incomplete young life caused Bill’s voice to crack with emotion.  That was pure Bill.   He was an intense humanist of both reasoned conviction and instinct, and this humanism was always on display, sometimes in telephone conversations with friends, discussions over politics, philosophy, and human behaviour, and finally during that day in Washington, when the tragedy of a young life cut unbearably short hit Bill like a club.

There are other people reading this piece who will want to contribute their own memories of Bill.  Perhaps they can offer more material on his pre-Maryland days, or just personal thoughts connecting with Bill’s impact on their lives.  I have many more stories myself, and together I think our memories are certainly worth putting forward.

Like all of us, I recognized years ago that as I grew older, death would become a much more frequent visitor on my shore.  I have entered that older stage now, and the number of friends and acquaintances passing on has indeed grown.  These deaths do bring the expected feelings of regret and sorrow.   Bill’s departure has produced something altogether beyond those earlier losses.   It has formed a penetrating sense of hurt that has thus far not been equalled in my world.   He was my friend; he was even a soul mate.   I can’t express how deeply I will miss this good spirit.   He was the best.

Bruce Hull


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02/05/23 07:31 PM #2    

Duncan Butts

Hello Bruce:

You wrote an outstanding message about Bill. Thanks. I was fortunate in that Bill was the sort of guy with whom I could always be my curmudgingly self. Yes, he and I had many conversations that were not fit to be heard by an ''outsider.'' We both knew that what we said to each other at the OMA meetings stayed at the OMA meetings.

Now, I hasten to add that we had many conversations that were intellectually stimulating. Yes, he was one smart cookie and could see matters that ordinary folks would not, or could not, see. .

I will miss him. He and I often discussed the trials that would come with advancing age. Little did I know that the end for him would come so soon. I say again, I will miss him. 

UMUC has lost a most distinguished professor. He could hold forth with certainty on many subjects. You would be a lucky student, indeed, to be in one of his classes. 

So, I say to Bill, RIP. Your legacy created in life, as well as at UMUC, will last for years to come. We should all be so lucky. 

BTW, we often discussed his ownership of Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) stock. The stock was up several dollars a share on Friday. Hmm!

Rog Butts

02/05/23 09:00 PM #3    

John Nolan

Well, many of you may be surprised to hear I am saddened to hear of Bill's passing. It is pretty widely known we butted heads a fair bit- indeed its surprising we didn't both end up as numbskulls. Certainly didn't happen in Bill's case at least!  I doubt the feeling was mutual, but I respected Bill, we had some pretty good conversations over the years, and I will miss those encounters. Bruce's tribute is indeed fitting, Bill was an important part of UMUC Europe, a big part of what gave it its unique character. RIP.   

02/07/23 03:47 PM #4    

Benjamin Terry Williams

Sorry to hear the bad news. The world is a worse place without Bill Kerr. He was a bright and curious soul who lived a good life. I first met Bill back in 1985 or so and we played tennis a couple of times while working for UMUC around Wiesbaden. Then later around 2005 I served on the FAC with Bill, and saw him a few times in Adelphi. I am really sorry to hear about his recent falls and his death. Impressively, Bill integrated the knowledge of many disciplines (philosophy, psychology, etc.) and lived an authentic life. He had a good sense of humor and wanted to see the world get better. It was a pleasure knowing Bill. Kudos to Bruce for eloquently writing a friend's memories.

02/08/23 04:40 AM #5    

Debra Rosenthal

My colleagues Bruce, Jane, Rog, Terry and John convey so clearly Bill's talents, temperament, and the contradictions of his nature. He was sincerely interested in so many aspects of life and somehow made me think harder and deeper than I imagined possible. He was intrigued and amused by the human condition, and this attitude was contagious, for which I am grateful. He will be missed.

02/09/23 02:24 AM #6    

Ronald Schlundt

Bill was a regular here at our Marylanders monthly lunch (rotating locations among Frankfurt, Mainz, and Wiesbaden). He will be greatly missed at the table.  

Ron Schlundt

02/09/23 08:20 AM #7    

Thomas Murphy

I worked with Bill on the Faculty Advisory Council Executive Board from 2005-2007. We were in almost daily conversations about university policies. But we were friends as well, and our conversations were often about anything but UMUC. Bill was erudite, but also quirky; articulate and, sometimes, idiosyncratic. I think he delighted in the contrasting qualities of these roles. He was a great peace maker on FAC -  I wouldn't have wished his position on my worst enemy! But he was always the gentleman. I built some furniture for his apartment, and did some redecorating there about 10 years ago. I hope that my handiwork held up. We'll all miss you.   

02/12/23 05:13 PM #8    

Michael Liebhaber

I was sad to hear the news about Bill. I loved catching up with him. He always had a new project or idea. RIP Bill.



02/13/23 12:39 PM #9    

Joe Arden

The single grearest strength of the Maryland Overseas Program with which I worked for 40 years was always the teaching faculty.  In all the years and the many classes that Bill taught with the European Division, he embodied this great strength.

While Director of the European Division in the 1980s and 1990s, I was quite aware of how fortunate Maryland was---and even more so his students---that Bill was with the program.  But, I began to know him better personally only after I was no longer with Maryland.

Somehow, we learned that we shared the same birthday---and we were pleased annually to exchange e-mail birthday wishes.  With appropriate joking references to growing ever older together.  Then over the last 15 years, whenever visiting Germany, I always looked forward to a lunch meeting in Heidelberg with Bill and a few other former Maryland faculty.  But, September 2022, Bill was unable to come to the luncheon.  We were all saddened by his absence.

All the more, am I saddened now.



02/14/23 10:12 AM #10    

Bruce Hull

Several people have noted Bill Kerr’s prowess as a correspondent and conversationalist, but nobody has offered solid examples of Bill’s talents in these areas.   Fortunately, that problem is about to be corrected.   Bill’s good friend and intellectual compatriot, Dallman Ross, wrote an obituary and tribute to Bill that can be found here:

For me, the best part of Dallman’s piece consists of the missing link within all of our above In Memory contributions:  samples of Bill’s writing and thinking.    There are other points to Dallman’s work, including information often found in an obituary, personal observations and recollections, and examples of Bill’s short story writing.  Take a look.

Bruce Hull

06/10/24 07:06 PM #11    

Martine Robinson Beachboard

Oh no!

I'm sorry to hear this.

Rest in peace.

Martine Robinson Beachboard


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