In Memoriam: Breene Kerr


The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with deep sorrow the death September 2, 2015 of former Life Trustee and Honorary Member, Breene M. Kerr.  Breene and his wife Sheri became WHOI Associates in 1994.  Breene served as a Trustee from 1996 to 1999, was elected an Honorary Trustee (now known as Life Trustee) in 1999, and also served as a Member of the Corporation from 1994 to 1999 before election as an Honorary Member.   Breene served on the Finance Committee from 1996 to 2015, and was a member of the Ocean and Climate Change Committee from 2003 to 2015, serving as its chair from 2003 to 2004.  Breene had also been a participant in the WHOI Science Partnership Program. 

Breene Mitchell Kerr was born January 27, 1929 in Ada, Oklahoma.  He was the second of four children of the late Grayce (Breene) Kerr and the late Robert “Bob” Samuel Kerr, founder of Kerr-McGee Corporation, and former U.S. Senator and the first native-born Governor of Oklahoma.  Breene attended the University of Oklahoma; he earned his SB in geology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He was the recipient of two awards from MIT:  the Bronze Beaver Award in 1971; and the Marshall B. Dalton Award in 1993.

After graduation Breene returned home to work at Kerr-McGee.  In 1969 he relocated to the East Coast and founded Kerr Consolidated, Inc., which was sold in 1996.  Breene was also important in the growth of Chesapeake Energy Corporation, based in Oklahoma, which became one of the largest producers of oil and gas in the United States.  Over his career, he served as a board member for numerous organizations, including: Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (former Chair); Aven Gas & Oil, Inc.; Seven Seas Petroleum, Inc.; Chesapeake Energy Corporation; and The Brookings Institution.  He was a Fellow of the American Association for Advancement of Science and a member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.   In 1985 Breene and Shery formed the Grayce B, Kerr Fund, a nonprofit philanthropy.

Breene’s interests included competitive sailing and automobiles.  He was a member of the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Club; the University Club; and the New York Yacht Club.  His interest in sailing drew him to examine the effects of tides on boats.  Disappointed with the tools available, Breene used his analytical skills to improve methods of navigation; he held six patents for nautical and moon clocks which provide detailed information on tides and the moon. 

Breene was married to the late Sheryl (Vestal) Kerr  (dec. 2014) for over 33 years; they had resided in Connecticut, Maryland, New York City, Maine, and most recent in Wellesley, Massachusetts.  Breene is survived by four children: Marcy S. (Kerr) Yuknat, daughter from his marriage to Shery; Katherine M. (Kerr) Allen; Bradley E. Kerr; and Breene M. Kerr, Jr., children from his first marriage to Frances S. (McMillin) Kerr; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.  He is also survived by two siblings: Kay (Kerr) Adair and William “Bill” G. Kerr; his brother, Robert S. Kerr, Jr., passed away in 2004.

A celebration of the lives of both Breene and Shery will be held on Sunday, October 25th, from 2:00 to 5:00, in the Steamboat Building at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, MD.  Friends are requested to carry on the spirit of Breene’s altruism by contributing to charities or organizations that are meaningful to them and their communities.


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