Principal of Malvern, 1952-1965
A strict task master and highly regarded teacher at Malvern for over 30 years; and a volunteer for his nation during the last war.
James Leslie Kerr was born on Dec. 7, 1902 in McKillop Township, Huron Country, Ontario. He attended Seaforth C.I. and later taught in Hensall, the towns about 10 miles apart, and near where he was born, north-west of Stratford and south-east of Goderich. He attended Queen’s University and subsequently obtained his Masters Degree in Mathematics in 1928 at the University of Toronto. In 1956, he was elected to the Senate of the University.
His teaching career at Malvern commenced in the fall of 1929 and continued to early in 1941 when left to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. He returned to Malvern in the fall of 1945, after the war. Between 1947 and 1952, he was the vice-principal and he became principal in the fall of 1952, acting in that capacity until he retired in the spring of 1965.
On Thursday, March 6, 1941, students gathered in the auditorium to wish Kerr and Mr. Philp well as they were leaving to join the war effort. Norma (Gregory) Burns, Class of ’42, recalled that “when Mr. Philp, Mr. Kerr and Dr. Yocom left (to join the forces) …. we found out the hard way what good teachers they were.” Kerr entered the RCAF as a Pilot Officer and soon became a Flying Officer with Mr. Philp when they were Link Trainer Instructors together at No. 1 Initial Training School, located in the former Eglinton Hunt Club on Avenue Road. By 1942, F/O Kerr became a Flight Lieutenant and rose to the rank of Squadron Leader in 1943. He saw duty overseas in the UK in 1944-45.
In addition to teaching math at Malvern, Kerr also acted as manager of the school’s rugby teams for several years. Rod Tennyson, Class of ’56, remembered some of his teachers at MCI: “Other notable teachers were Mr. Sage, Mr. Rhamey, Mr. Kerr (and) Mr. Jewell….”
In September of 1954, my first year at the school, Principal Kerr took a stand against the wearing of jeans by boys. At first the principal considered instituting a regulation prohibiting boys who wore jeans from playing school sports. He then said he would call up to 30 parents of jeans-wearing boys, pointing out the objections of their teachers. If parents approved of jeans, then the boys could wear them. Evidently, most parents approved, many, no doubt, for economic reasons, and we could wear jeans from then on. I recall arriving at school minutes before first class and having Mr. Kerr order me to “roll down” my turned-up jean cuffs. This I had to do in front of him and was late for class.
Former Malvernite Ken Naples remembers Kerr inviting Padre A. Marshall Laverty, the Chaplain of Queen’s University, to address the student body each year, for several years in the 1950s and early ’60s. Ken went on to study at Queen’s, as had Principal Kerr, before him.
James Leslie Kerr died in 1986 and is buried in Seaforth, Ontario, where he was born.