Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Remembering Save The Bay Co-Founder Kay Kerr

Save The Bay is deeply saddened to share the news of the passing of one of our heroes. Last week our co-founder, Catherine "Kay" Kerr, died peacefully at her home in El Cerrito surrounded by her loving family. She was 99.

In 1960 Kay Kerr joined two other Berkeley housewives -- Sylvia McLaughlin and Esther Gulick -- over tea to discuss their worry about an Army Corps of Engineers’ map that had been printed in the Oakland Tribune showing that San Francisco Bay could end up being a narrow shipping channel by the year 2020 because of planned Bay fill. They were also concerned about the 40 burning garbage dumps ringing the shoreline. Together, they hatched a plan to save the Bay. These three women mobilized their community to help and as a result, formed the "Save San Francisco Bay Association” In 1961, helping to start the first modern grassroots environmental movement in the Bay Area.

Soon the group was thousands of members strong and eventually won a legislative moratorium against Bay fill; established the first coastal zone management agency in the country, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC); helped create the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge; halted shoreline dumping; and stopped the Peripheral Canal from draining more of the Bay’s fresh water from upstream.

Today, Save The Bay works tirelessly to carry on our founders’ legacy by protecting and restoring San Francisco Bay for the benefit of people, wildlife and future generations. Our work to reduce Bay pollution, stop inappropriate development and restore wetlands is inspired by Kay, Esther and Sylvia – who simply didn’t give up even when told their efforts would be impossible.

We are particularly moved by these words from Kay Kerr:

“When we started out in 1961, we thought all we had to do was to get a good law and the Bay would be saved. What we have learned is that the law itself must be saved, that this requires constant vigilance against those that would change or weaken it. What we have learned is that the Bay is never saved. It is, instead, always in the process of being saved. That is why we have been so heavily involved for all of these years, and why our successors will be involved far into the future.”

Kay Kerr – University of California Albright Lecture Series, 1988

Sylvia McLaughlin remembers her dear friend fondly:

Kay Kerr was a good friend and colleague.

For several years, Kay, Esther Gulick and I would meet at Kay’s home every Monday morning to discuss our strategy for saving the bay from being filled for shoreline development.

Kay did most of the writing as she had been a journalism major at Stanford. She would write statements on behalf of Save The Bay, which I would read at Council and legislative hearings. She was totally dedicated to our cause of keeping fill out of the Bay and beautifying the shoreline.


To honor Kay we are asking you to please share memories or comments about how she has inspired you to support Save The Bay in the comments section below.

22 comments:

David Lewis, Save The Bay Executive Director said...

I greatly admired Kay Kerr. Throughout my tenure at Save The Bay she continually supported the organization and me in our efforts to protect and restore San Francisco Bay. She will be greatly missed, but her wonderful legacy lives on through our work.

Felicia Madsen said...

Unfortunately, I never had the pleasure of meeting Kay, but can say that her words and work have been an ongoing inspiration to me during my time at Save The Bay.

jess c said...

Kay Kerr and our other two founders are a true inspiration to me as I work to educate the community about Save The Bay and San Francisco Bay. I am eternally grateful to Kay for being so dedicated to saving our great natural treasure.

Amy Ricard said...

I always love telling people the story of our founders and how three women defied all odds to save the Bay. I am grateful to Kay and our other two founders -- Sylvia and Esther -- for inspiring me with their leadership and vision. Nearly 50 years after they formed Save The Bay, I am honored to carry on their legacy.

Cara said...

I've only been with Save The Bay for a little over a month, but Kay's legacy is certainly alive and well.

I am thankful that Kay and our other founders took the initiative 50 years ago to stand up for the health and well-being of my favorite Bay.

Cheers to Kay!

Emily said...

I am so grateful to Kay and her fellow co-founders for their amazing work. Save the Bay continues to thrive as an organization, and Kay's legacy will certainly live on in our daily efforts to protect San Francisco Bay. Her work will not be forgotten!

Raven said...

Today I learned that one of our founding members, after 50 years of caring for our Bay, has truly passed on her legacy. It was a sad way to start the day and the holiday season, but to see us all gathered in the office sharing the stories we know about this genuine maverick made me see that her work will never be done. It is through our efforts (all 25,000 of us!) and those who follow that your life will forever be celebrated. Thank you Mrs. Kerr.

Allison said...

What better imprint to leave on the world than an organization working to save one of our most precious natural resources? Kay's dedication to our Bay gives our work at Save The Bay such a deeper meaning.

Kate Berry said...

My condolences go out to Kay’s family and friends. Kay is an inspiration to me and I’m in awe of what she, Sylvia and Esther were able to accomplish on behalf of the San Francisco Bay. Kay’s commitment, advocacy and vision for the Bay was groundbreaking and I’m honored to have a small part in continuing her legacy.

J. Sonnenfeld said...

As I sometimes tell our supporters, I wasn't even born until Save the Bay had already been around for almost 25 years.

I'm proud to be part of a generation of Bay Area residents who never knew the Bay as our founders did. I never saw the dozens of trash dumps that ringed the bay, never smelled the un-treated sewage sent into its waters on a daily basis, and never had to watch truckload after truckload dump millions of tons of fill into the Bay to create new cities, freeways, airports and more. It's because of Kay, Sylvia, Ester and their generation that the Bay is the treasure that it is today and that new generations, like my own, see it as a great asset rather than a great trash dump.

Kay reminds us that 'Saving the Bay' is not something that just happened in the past, but something we do every day. That it's a process that will never be complete, as we work to repair the past century of destruction and challenge those who, intentionally or not, seek to harm it.

Someday when we've reached our goal of 100,000 acres of restored wetlands, when our native species are back from the brink, the salmon runs strong again, and access to our shorelines open for all the Bay Area's residents to appreciate and enjoy, we'll be able to look back at Kay and our founders and honor the little spark that created an endless fire.

Thank you, Kaye and the Kerr family for all you have done for the Bay, for California, and for all of us.

M. Eliza Fried said...

Our community has lost a hero who spent countless hours working to ensure that the local gem that defines us would be preserved. Without her and the two other Save The Bay co-founders, generations to come might have only imagined what San Francisco Bay was like before it was paved over in the name of "progress."

I had the honor of meeting Mrs. Kerr, and I will never forget her grace, spirit and determination. I remember leaving our meeting knowing that I had just met a woman that I would forever admire.

Darcie said...

Standing up for what you believe is hard.. standing up for what you believe when most people around you are decades behind in recognizing the consequences of their actions is near to impossible. Key Kerr was a founder of the modern day environmental movement and one of my heroes. She will be missed, but her hard work and accomplishments continue on through those she has empowered!

Kate Dillon said...

Kay Kerr's longevity is a testimony to her strength. I am so grateful for the phenomenal pioneering work she did to save San Francisco Bay and look forward to witnessing and furthering her legacy now and for years to come.

Ann Buell said...

I am so grateful to Kay Kerr. What would San Francisco Bay be like without her dedication and the dedication of Save the Bay's two other wonderful co-founders? Kay's work made an immeasurable positive impact on the health of the Bay. What a gift to all of us!

Lou De La Rosa said...

What an incredible legacy. Words cannot express the thanks we all owe her.

Rheine Tiamsic said...

She will be greatly missed.

Diddo said...

12/23/2010. I applaud, and am grateful for, the life of Kay Kerr which is now complete. I am also grateful for Sylvia McLaughlin; for the fact that she is still among us; and that her birthday is tomorrow - December 24. Thank you, Kay! Happy Birthday, Sylvia!
Diddo Clark
Bay swimmer

K. Bandell said...

...although I reside far from any bay, the notion that three focussed individuals launched a movement which became a prototype for sophisticated environmental grassroots advocacy was and remains inspirational...to K. Kerr: please rest in rowdy peace....

Anonymous said...

What these three women did is truly inspriational! They had an idea and they manged to carry it out. I remember joining Save The Bay when annual dues were only $1.

Lawrence Gonzi said...

Kay Kerr will continue to inspire all of us who care so much about our most precious San Francisco Bay. Thank you Kay for all that you have done, and I for one will never forget what you have accomplished for the people and wildlife of the bay region... We will continue to fight those that would rather destroy our bay shores, I promise you that...

Lawrence Gonzi

Anonymous said...

Fifty years ago, Kay Kerr eloquently articulated reasons why San Francisco Bay deserved permanent protection, and inspired her friends and a grassroots movement to follow her lead. Our Bay Area community is better for Kay Kerr's contributions. Her efforts to protect San Francisco Bay, along with those of Sylvia McLaughlin and Esther Gulick, are living proof of their lasting legacy.

mherz said...

As founder of San Francisco Baykeeper, I’ve always been indebted to Kay. It was her support that led Save the Bay to grant the funds that enabled me to survey regulatory agencies and nonprofits regarding the enforcement of environmental regulations that were supposed to be protecting the Bay. The results clearly indicated that nobody was out there checking for compliance or looking for pollution – no one was minding the Bay!

The data contained in that Save the Bay-supported survey were sufficiently compelling to convince the San Francisco, Goldman and Gerbode Foundations to fund a patrol vessel and the Baykeeper startup.

If it hadn’t been for Kay Kerr and the rest of the Save the Bay board, Baykeeper might not have been around over the past 21 years to identify and stop the many polluters and other environmental law breakers it has brought to justice.

We and the Bay owe Kay a tremendous debt of gratitude!

Michael Herz
San Francisco Baykeeper Emeritus.