My celebrant pal Claire remarked last week, ‘isn’t it lovely when you fall in love with the person whose funeral you’re working on?’ Indeed it is! We as funeral celebrants are so very privileged - unlike the bereaved families we work with, we haven’t lost the people whose lives we celebrate, we’ve met them for the first time. Sometimes I’m left bubbling over with the stories I’ve heard, and wishing I could share them far and wide. Keith Kerr’s is one such story, and his family are so very proud of him, they have given their permission for me to tell it to you.
Keith was born in 1946, into a life that his sisters described as ‘hard and poverty stricken’. Growing up he was often cold and hungry, ill treated by his parents and neglected by the mother who walked out on the family ‘for reasons unknown’ leaving Keith’s sisters to bring him up in very tough circumstances. Marie and June clearly managed to do a wonderful job of caring for him. In spite of all this, Keith did exceptionally well at school, his resilience all the more remarkable as he was growing up as a gay young man in a culture and society where homosexuality was outlawed and open hostility and persecution were commonplace.
Escape to Brighton
After training as a chef, and becoming an accomplished photographer in his spare time, Keith moved to Brighton in his late twenties. Here in our very special city, Keith not only flourished, he became a true pillar of the community: a man so widely loved, respected and appreciated that the words of tribute his family received from his friends, neighbours and colleagues were far too many to include in the half hour we were allotted in the chapel.
A pillar of the community
We were joined on the live broadcast by the many who were unable to be with us person but very much with us in spirit as we celebrated Keith on Monday 8th February, and I’m guessing that everyone learned at least a little more about him than they knew before. Having heard in his sisters’ words about the challenges of his early years, we heard from Keith’s friends and neighbours about all he meant to them. We heard about his gentleness of spirit, his warmth and kindness, his dry wit and his wonderful sense of fun. We heard about his outrageous outfits for the Rocky Horror Picture Show and his legendary parties. We heard about his steady reliability, his organisational skills and his meticulous attention to detail. We learned about Keith’s skill with words and figures, his razor sharp precision and the invaluable contribution that he made to community groups like the GEMS swimming club, Older and Out, Brighton Cares and many others besides. We heard of the very special friendships he developed with his neighbours in Bernard Road, spanning the generations who all remember Keith with so much love and affection, warmth and respect.
It was bitterly cold, and the snow was falling as we took Keith to his last resting place in the Woodland Valley natural burial ground, but I hope that every heart was warmed as much as my own by the story of Keith’s inspirational life. As his sisters Marie and June concluded ‘despite the adversity he experienced in his formative years, he managed to develop into a highly intelligent, kind and thoughtful man who supported members of his family, forged successful careers, developed long lasting valued friendships, believed in the power of community, and was most of all, simply a decent man, deserving of our love and utmost respect - a brother to be proud of.’
A man to be proud of
Whether you’re a friend of Keith’s, one of the many people whose lives he touched, or ‘meeting’ him for the first time through these words, I’m sure you will join me in wishing his family every possible source of strength, encouragement and comfort as they mourn their loss. Marie and June, Paul and Linda, David and Gary - your brother and uncle is a man for all of us here in Brighton to be proud of too.
Deep peace of the running wave to you,
Deep peace of the flowing air to you,
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you,
Deep peace of the shining stars to you,
Keith, may you rest in peace