The obituary that ran for my mother was not what she wanted, nor was it accurate so I am writing this for her and for me.
She was born Kerry Anne Pryor on November 1,1942, the oldest child of James Vincent Pryor and Mary Valda Kramer Pryor. At a very young age, she contracted encephalitis which caused long-lasting damage to her memory and even though she amazingly learned to rewalk, retalk, and regain her childhood, she forever thought of herself as lesser because this damage. It was a lifelong tragic internalization of being considered other because of medical conditions. She was a survivor and saw that as a mixed blessing.
Her other siblings arrived quickly – Sue in 1943, followed by twins Bill and Howard in 1945. Kerry adored all of them whom she considered her best friends. Kerry was named by her father, allegedly after “County Kerry” where his Pryor ancestors were from (they were not.) Her middle name came from her maternal’ grandmother, Anna Marie Bliss Kramer. Kerry was raised Catholic and graduated from St. Francis Academy for Girls in Castle Shannon in 1962. She had a fond remembrance of her classmates and many of the nuns who instructed her – she had a lifelong disdain for purple because the nun who taught art told it was the “first color a baby reached for” at an age where she was determined to not be babied. She wasn’t a strong student, but she was determined to make her father proud – he believed in her. After high school, he convinced her to pursue a degree at Point Park Junior College which she did with reluctance and then sought work in the secretarial field.
She held various jobs throughout her adult life, most memorable were her stints with the American Cancer Society and her final years with Life’s Work. She liked the independence of having her own money and the sense of purpose that came with any job, no matter how large or small. She always made friends at work and deeply cherished those relationships. Kerry had a wicked sense of humor, but was never vicious or mean-spirited.
As a child, Kerry enjoyed spending time with her extended family, including her Nana and Peep in Connecticut or Florida and her Grandma Anna closer to home in Butler County. She often spent time with a very large family of cousins, aunts, uncles, and more. She had an amazing recall of who was related to whom and could slyly recall the oft cited family feedback. She had three maternal uncles, two paternal uncles, and two paternal aunts plus their spouses and a whole slew of cousins. She told many stories about family pets with ridiculous names, her brother’s antics as twins, and her adventures using the outhouse at her grandparents house well into the 1960s because the actual bathroom was reserved for adults. She also deeply loved Della Saunders and her daughter, Betty. Della tried to prepare Kerry for married life and parenting, she was often the first one my mother called when something went awry.
In her youth, Kerry enjoyed skating which led her to meet her future husband, Jay Kerr, during a ‘Ladies Choice’ skate in the mid-1960’s. They went bowling, spent time with his youth group friends, and. He was summoned to meet her parents who told him Jay was not a good nickname for James and dubbed him Jim. He agreed and spent there rest of his life known as Jay to his side of the family and Jim to hers. My mother said he did it for Grandma’s pork chops, not out of love for her.
In 1968, they decided to marry. Sadly, a few months before their weeding, Kerry’s beloved father died at the young age of 56. She was devastated, but persuaded to go through with the wedding. By 1972, she had two children, Susie and Jimmy, and had moved to a neighborhood in West Mifflin. She joined Holy Spirit Church and took an interest in local politics. She was a staunch Democrat, often writing letters to elected officials on issues of interest to her. She was convinced that most politicians, business owners, and the people running any sort of bingo were crooks and that “it was fixed” but she continued to vote, go to businesses, and attend her weekly game of bingo at the local church, carrying a large cookie tin filled with pennies. She assured us she could tell if it had been ‘lightened’ by us kids and our punishment was to be forced to carry the tin to and from bingo for her.
Kerry never was able to drive due to the seizure disorder from her childhood illness. She was a relentless walker and adept at cajoling rides from kind-hearted neighbors. Her favorite walk was through Lebanon Church Cemetery, founded in 1776 and filled with very old tombstones and gravesites. Kerry would walk among them, offering up prayers for the repose of their souls because “there was probably no one else left to do so.” She instilled a lifelong love of cemeteries and destigmatized death for her young children. She will be buried there, hopefully for future generations to offer prayers over.
When she was happy, she played whiffle ball in the front yard and supervised swimming parties in the back. She played weekly card games with neighborhood ladies. She also enjoyed visiting with neighbors during her walks. Her kids quickly learned that any “walk” was more of a stroll with lots of stops along the way where we were encouraged to talk with Mr. Monaco, Mrs. Concannon, and others
She prepared strong sweet tea every day, offering up glasses to our neighbors who stopped to pass the time. The origins of this recipe are mysterious.
Kerry had a lifelong grudge that her mother would make noodle soup and serve her younger brothers first, often leaving “just boring broth” for their sisters. She vowed to do it differently and added copious amounts of egg noodles to a packet of dry Lipton soup to the point that broth was often hard to find. Only after her death while talking with my cousins, did we learn that their mother, my mum’s sister, did the same thing. Fair portions were important to her. She taught her two children that “one served, the other chose” to encourage us to treat each other well. When she discovered that I was taking advantage of my scientific grasp of ice when pouring a shared bottle of Coke, she gave me a glass of ice and my brother the entire bottle of pop.
She was a terrible cook, but had no shame in pretending that ‘find the bay leaf’ was a game every family played at mealtime. She was generous with her sandwich making and taught her kids to have fun eating TV dinners, Swanson potpies, and Lipton noodle soup. Significantly, she waited to retire from cooking until both of her children were launched into college, turning over matters to her husband who turned out to be a damn fine cook. She adored salads and taking leftovers home, no matter how few the scraps remain. She had two sets of china and strongly believed in using them as often as possible, especially once her kids were old enough to do the washing.
Kerry’s health deteriorated slowly over the years and her activities became more solitary, including watching classic movies and sports events. She always remained dedicated to watching the local news and reading the local newspapers. She continued to enjoy people watching and “going for a ride” with whomever had a trip to take. If you offered her a Diet Coke and turned on the oldies station, she was up for anything. She spent hours on the phone talking with old friends, family, and neighbors.
She remembered birthdays. One year, she pranked her twin brothers by sending them the exact same birthday card with a note at the bottom to please forward to the other brother. Both immediately called their mother and sister to confirm that her financial straits were not that dire and she laughed uproariously about that for many years to come.
When her mother-in-law could no longer live independently, Kerry offered her a home even moving herself and husband Jim out of the master bedroom in to the basement so she could be comfortable in her final years. They squabbled over the news, but found common ground in Steeler games. No one wept more sincerely when her mother-in-law passed.
She was heartbroken over the deaths of her sister Sue Sherbondy and her mother Val Kramer Pryor in 2004. The deaths of her eldest niece Theresa Pryor in 2010 and her brother Bill Pryor in 2015 added to her grief, a grief that culminated a life of indignities and violence against her. She became even more withdrawn. Earlier on, she was diagnosed with depression, a not unreasonable response to the traumas she endured, but it is also fair to say she lived and died with a broken heart.
She defined herself as ‘dumb’ because of her memory impairments even thought we saw she had graduated from college, read often two newspapers cover to cover each day, followed by the evening local and national news. She developed tricks to remember names and was always sad that her sister-in-law took umbrage that she used the wrong name even though she clearly knew whom she was addressing. She was too often criticized and too rarely the beneficiary of compassion and kindness. She was often not believed and typically underestimated, but she always forgave because that’s what her faith instilled in her.
Kerry loved her childhood and adulthood pets fiercely, having a particularly special bond with her cat Theo. Her other favorite things include – Bob Evans, Coca Cola, graham crackers and milk, singing, the designer Alfred Dunner, a good eyebrow wax, comfortable shoes, watching any old school musical 8999x, and the Steelers. Note that while she did not think the Steelers fixed anything, she was pretty sure the referee/umpire world was all about fixing things.
She was someone who was too good for this world.
Kerry loved a lot of people, most of all her children, siblings, and her grandchildren. But the shadows of her life experiences hovered around her final years. Her lightness dimmed starting with the death of her father through recent times. She anticipated being taken for granted and being the one everyone had to wait up for. She oft repeated “Hold on, I’m coming … and so is Christmas” when she felt left behind.
Her surviving loved ones take comfort knowing she has finally arrived with those she’s mourned over the years, hopefully finding comfort and healing in the presence of her beloved Blessed Mother and her patron saints.
Kerry is survived by her husband of over 50 years, JIm (Jay) Kerr who now lives in McKeesport. She has two adult children, Susan (Laura Dunhoff) Kerr now of Manchester on the Northside, and Jim Kerr, Jr. of Philadelphia. She is also survived by her two grandchildren, Ethan and Jessilyn Kerr both of Philadelphia. Her brother Howard Pryor also survives her along with a litany of nieces and nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews, and friends.
She endured a lot during her time on this earth, but she often exceeded expectations be it graduating with a college degree, always finding work when necessary, or living the Catholic values she held so dear. She made many friends, especially through her time with Life’s Work, who are known to her family only by first names and unable to be contacted. She was proud of her children even when she couldn’t quite articulate what degrees we earned or our job titles. She was very proud that we both attended college and both also earned Master’s Degrees.
Kerry’s work on Earth was done. She deserves to rest in power and find eternal peace in the next world she firmly anticipated. Her suffering was not acceptable or to be whitewashed as a sacrifice for redemption by any means, but I am glad she found a way to comfort herself. Woe to those who did harm to this kind lady.
To honor her, please do not sent flowers. She did not like that. She preferred either that you request a mass for her via the Shrine to our Blessed Mother in Lourdes, France or that you donate to a good cause. We have established ‘Kerry’s Kitten Fund’ though the 501c3 Pittsburgh LGBTQ Charities. The American Cancer Society is another cause important to her. Thank you.