Tennessean Columnist Gail Kerr Has Died

Credit: George Walker IV / THE TENNESSEAN

Credit: George Walker IV / THE TENNESSEAN

Gail Kerr, a mainstay of Nashville’s media scene known for keeping a watchful eye on her hometown as a reporter then local columnist, died on Tuesday of a blood clot. She was 52.

Kerr had been fighting cancer for years. She was set to have a blood transfusion within hours of her death.

In the late 1970s, after graduating high school, Kerr started at The Tennessean as a copy girl – a starter position on the newspaper totem pole during a time when the clattering of typewriters and boisterous personalities filled newsrooms across the country.

Journalist and career coach Cindy Smith who worked with Kerr for many years fondly remembers Kerr’s knack for spinning a good yarn, even about ugly subjects.

“She used to tell stories about being a copy girl during the most sexist of times,” Smith said. “And I think she was proud that she had survived all that to develop her own hometown voice.”

For the past decade, Kerr penned a column focused on local and state politics. Her penchant for tackling hot-button issues and not being afraid to raise rabble where she saw fit generated critics from both sides of the political aisle.

‘Consummate Journalist’

Known as one of The Tennessean’s most recognizable personalities, Kerr was a local establishment in and of herself. Local politicos in Nashville knew Kerr’s name, and she often passed along story tips to beat reporters at the paper.

“Gail was a consummate journalist,” Tennessean news director Maria De Varenne says. “She gave voice to those in the community who didn’t have one. She stood up for people and causes she believed in, and she wasn’t afraid to spar with politicians and civic leaders when she disagreed with them.”

Her column took some lapses due to health issues, during which The Tennessean would broadcast her absence on the front page. It was an indication of her importance to readers. Still, the disruptions would not temper her gusto.

In her final column that ran last week, she wrote that state lawmakers pulled a “shortsighted, boneheaded move” to forestall the adoption of Common Core education standards.

WPLN’s own news director Anita Bugg put it this way:

Whether she was cheer-leading or taking someone to task, it all came out of this place of love for this city, this state, and everyone in it.

Having no trouble charming people wherever assignments took her, Gail Kerr’s personality was winsome with both politicians and readers. Many are putting out prepared statements.

Gail was truly at her best when she was writing about Nashville and local issues. She understood Metro Government better than most, and that knowledge came from a lifetime of experience covering a city that continues to grow and change over time. Gail could be an elected leader’s best friend — and worst nightmare. And that’s a good thing. We need more journalists like that. – Mayor Karl Dean

Gail Kerr always spoke her mind, and always with wisdom – whether you agreed with her or not. Her reporting and her columns were fresh and in touch with everyday living. Nashville will miss her voice.  – Sen. Lamar Alexander

Gail was married to musician Les Kerr, who would sometimes bring a band into the newsroom during holidays or special events.

Les Kerr was not immediately available for an interview, but he told The Tennessean that working for newspapers was “the only job she ever had.”
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