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.