Malcolm H. Kerr, Steve Kerr’s Dad: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Malcolm H. Kerr speaking.

American University in Beirut Malcolm H. Kerr speaking

Steve Kerr has had a legendary career with the NBA, winning five championship titles as a player and two as the head coach of the Golden State Warriors. He is known for his measured, methodical coaching style, which he attributes to his late father, Dr. Malcolm H. Kerr.  “When I was 8, 9, 10 years old, I had a horrible temper”, Kerr told The New York Times, “[Dad] would be in the stands watching, and he never really said anything until we got home. He had the sense that I needed to learn on my own, and anything he would say would mean more after I calmed down.”

Malcolm H. Kerr was an author and professor who taught at UCLA, the American University of Cairo, and the American University of Beirut, where he specialized in Middle Eastern politics and the Arab world. He served as president of the AUB from 1982 to his untimely death in 1984.

Here’s what you need to know about Malcolm H. Kerr and his life:

1. He Received A PhD In International Studies From Johns Hopkins University

Kerr was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1931. His parents, Stanley Kerr and Elsa Reckman, were also educators, with his father being the chairman of the Department of Biochemistry at the American University of Beirut and his mother being the Dean of Women. The family relocated to the United States for a brief time during World War II, but they returned to Beirut shortly after, starting a trend that would continue throughout Kerr’s life.

According to the AUB website, Kerr spent the next decade as a student and a traveler. He attended Deerfield Academy high school in Massachusetts, and in 1953 he earned a BA in political science at Princeton University. He returned to Beirut to continue his studies, earning an MA in Arab studies in 1955. He then traveled to the US again to attend Johns Hopkins University, where he earned a PhD in international studies in 1958.

Kerr’s master’s thesis at Johns Hopkins, written under the tutelage of famed academics Majid Khadduri and Sir Hamilton Gibbs, would later serve as the basis for his first book, 1959’s Lebanon in the Last Years of Feudalism.

Kerr would go on to write several books during his lifetime, including 1966’s Islamic Reform: The political and legal theories of Muhammad ‘Abduh and Rashid Ridā, 1971’s The Arab Cold War: Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasir and His Rivals, 1958-1970 and 1979’s Inter-Arab conflict contingencies and the gap between the Arab rich and poor: A report.

2. He And His Wife Ann Had Four Children

Kerr and Ann Zwicker met at AUB in 1955, when she was studying abroad. They married in 1956, only a few months after Ann’s graduation. Both had a passion for Middle Eastern politics, and felt that they could make a positive difference. “I don’t think Malcolm would have gone back to be [school] president if he wasn’t married to someone interested in the Middle East”, Ann told The LA Times. When asked whether she regretted the events that led to her husband’s death, she added: “I can’t let myself regret. Some people just put their head in a hole. I wouldn’t want to live that way. I don’t want my children to live that way.”

In 1996, Ann published the memoir Come With Me From Lebanon: An American Family Odyssey, which recounted the tumultuous years that she and Kerr spent in Beirut, and the emotional toll that his death took on the rest of the family. She published another book in 2002, Painting the Middle East, and remarried in 2008 to a man named Ken Adams. The couple currently lives in California.

Kerr and Ann had four children together: Susan, John, Steve, and Andrew. Susan is a County Councillor for Melbourn & Bassingbourn in the UK. She and her husband Hans van de Ven have three children, according to her website. Susan also wrote a book on her experiences in Beirut titled One Family’s Response To Terrorism: A Daughter’s Memoir.

The Mercury News reports that John has a doctorate in applied economics from Stanford and is a professor at Michigan State. Andrew earned his MBA at the Thunderbird School of Global Management and works in the construction business.

3. He Was Also The Director Of Near East Studies At UCLA

While he is perhaps best known for his work at AUB, Kerr’s longest tenure was actually at UCLA. He joined the college as a professor in 1962, and was eventually appointed the chairman of the Department of Political Science, and the Dean of the Division of Social Sciences between 1973 and 1976.

Historian Nikki Keddie, who took a salary cut to help fund the first Malcolm Kerr Memorial postdoctoral fellows at UCLA, spoke to UCLA Global about the lasting relevance of Kerr’s research:

Even his more historical work about the nineteenth century or about the early reformists in Egypt and the Muslim world, Muhammad Abduh and Rashid Rida, raised many of the questions about the nature of Islamic reform and even relations of Islam and the West which still are relevant to the kind of discussions that intellectuals have today.

In 2014, a memorial was held at UCLA in Kerr’s honor. It was cosponsored by UCLA’s Center for Middle East Development and the Political Science Department, according to their website, and celebrated Kerr’s Middle Eastern studies.

In 2017, UCLA introduced the Kerr Family Centennial Scholars Endowment. The endowment is dedicated to promoting international understanding and peace through education, and will be given to young Middle Easterners who attend UCLA. “It is my wish that Middle Eastern scholarship recipients come to know the United States better,” Ann Kerr told UCLA Global, “and return to their own countries to share what they have learned… As you learn about another culture, you also come to a greater knowledge of your own.”

4. He Was Assassinated In Lebanon In 1984

Kerr was shot and killed on January 18, 1984. According to the New York Times, he was stepping off the elevator towards his office when he was shot twice in the back of the head. The identity of the shooters remain unknown, but a group known as the Islamic Holy War took responsibility for the shooting later that day.

President Ronald Reagan released a statement shortly after Kerr’s death. “Dr. Kerr’s untimely and tragic death at the hands of these despicable assassins must strengthen our resolve not to give in to the acts of terrorists”, he said, “Terrorism must not be allowed to take control of the lives, actions, or future of ourselves and our friends.”

Edwin T. Prothro, a close friend who worked at AUB, told the NY Times that Kerr knew the risks that came with teaching there and accepted them. ”Since he was a little boy, all Malcolm ever really wanted was to be president of AUB’, he said, “When the time came, he knew his life could be in danger – he talked about it to me several times – but he took the job anyways because he loved this place and he wanted to build it into something special.” Prothro added that “In the end, he was killed not for who he was or what he did, but for what he symbolized to others who never even knew him.”

Memorial services for Kerr were held at AUB, UCLA, and Princeton. Steve, a star college athlete at the time, was the only one of the children who did not attend. “It sounds bad,” he said, “Obviously, the basketball wasn’t more important. But the logistics were really tricky. And it was cathartic for me to just play.”

5. Steve Kerr Said That His Father’s Death Shaped Who He Is Today

In a 2016 interview with the NY Times, Steve Kerr spoke candidly about his father’s death. When I heard it, I just dropped the ball and started shaking,” Kerr recalled, “I sat down for a minute. I’ll admit they got to me. I had tears in my eyes. For one thing, it brought back memories of my dad. But, for another thing, it was just sad that people would do something like that.”

Since then, Kerr has said that he prefers to focus on the memory of his father. He credits him with helping shape the man, and the coach, that he is today. “Pop was an observer, and he let me learn and experience”, Kerr said, “I try to give our guys a lot of space and speak at the right time. Looking back on it, I think my dad was a huge influence on me, on my coaching.”

“He gave me the understanding that [life] is complex”, Kerr told the Times. “And as easy as it is to demonize people, there’s a lot of different factors involved in creating this culture that we’re in now. I really realized from Pop and Phil [Jackson] that I could use my experience as a kid and growing up to my advantage as a coach, and connect with players and try to keep that healthy perspective. Keep it fun, and don’t take it too seriously.”