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Martha Kerr shared love of music, learning

SEFFNER — There were three things Martha Kerr always seemed destined to do: teach, play piano and raise a family.

She did them all, and did them so well that the people who knew her best were amazed at how much she could do in a week.

"She'd work all day, then come home and cook dinner and go off to night school," said her son, Michael Kerr. "Then it was church twice a day on Sunday and every Wednesday."

As an educator, she spent more than 50 years as a teacher and principal in area schools until retiring in her mid 70s. As a pianist, she performed regularly at local churches, especially First Baptist Church of Brandon, until just weeks before her death.

Mrs. Kerr, 73, died March 1 of cancer.

Devoutly religious and musically gifted, she had been playing piano at local churches since age 9, starting at Forest Hills Baptist, where her father was pastor.

For virtually her entire adult life, she accompanied the Silver Tones Choir at First Baptist Church of Brandon, and frequently played at other area churches.

"The smaller churches didn't have their own pianists," said her sister, Judith Lane. "She'd always offer to play for them."

The kind of music she loved best, old-time gospel, started to go out of fashion some years ago. But Mrs. Kerr still loved playing it, and her friends kept telling her they missed hearing her play.

So she started organizing events called Nights of Remembrance at her home. She'd put together a program of traditional songs, mostly religious, but sometimes patriotic, and friends would come and sing along.

"It started with about nine people, and then it grew," Lane said. "She finally went to the pastor (of First Baptist Church of Brandon) and said, 'I can't fit these people in my house anymore.' "

The pastor offered her the church's cafeteria. The twice-yearly events continued to grow. By last year, it regularly attracted 300 people. The crowd barely fit into the cafeteria, and Mrs. Kerr had begun looking for a larger space.

But music was just her avocation. She spent many years teaching sixth grade at Trapnell and Bryan elementary schools in Plant City.

"She always told me that if you were a schoolteacher, you never did it for the salary," her son said. "You did it because you loved the kids. I remember many times when I was young, she would take kids in for the weekend because their parents were having problems. A lot of her students came from poor families, and it wasn't unusual for her to buy them lunch."

In her 40s, Mrs. Kerr decided she wanted to become a principal. She returned to college, earning master's degrees at the University of South Florida and the University of Tampa. She finished her career as principal of Seffner Christian Academy.

As essential as her career and her music were to her, Mrs. Kerr's priority was always her husband and her two sons. As busy as she was, Michael Kerr said, she always seemed to have ample time for her family.

She finally retired just a couple of years ago, but continued to play music. In fact, it was her own piano, recorded at one of those Nights of Remembrance, that loved ones heard at Mrs. Kerr's funeral.

In addition to her son Michael and her sister, Mrs. Kerr is survived by her husband, Thomas; son Martin; brother Harley Crosby; and two granddaughters.

Marty Clear can be reached at mclear@tampabay.rr.com.

Martha Kerr shared love of music, learning 03/12/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 12, 2009 4:30am]
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