Sister, aunt, stewardess, college professor, animal lover. Born Oct. 11, 1944, in St. Thomas, Ont.; died March 15, 2013, in Oxford Station, Ont., of hypertensive heart disease, aged 68.
Paula Kerr was born in late 1944 while her father, Gordon, was overseas serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Bomber Command, so she did not meet him until she was nine months old. Her American mother, Ethel, like many wartime wives, had to run the household and take care of her then-three children during her husband’s absence.
Unlike the proverbial “middle child,” Paula did not have to struggle for attention, as she was a sweet blond child with pigtails, freckles and an engaging personality. When company visited the Kerr household, her mother felt badly that Paula got most of the attention while her plainer siblings, John, Nancy and Wendy, took a background role. In adulthood, her brother and sisters affectionately called her “the Pretty One” in a nod to their childhood experiences.
Growing up in an Air Force family, Paula had a love of pilots and planes in her blood. So it was natural that she get a job as a stewardess (as they were then called) with Pan American Airlines in 1966, one of the first Canadian women hired. Based in Miami, she flew mainly to South America, struggling with revolving sleep schedules, airplane food, a lot of partying and the demands of the airline to stay within a couple of pounds of size 10.
After a decade of flying with Pan Am, the job lost its appeal. Paula took on a variety of new roles including restaurant manager, caterer, travel agent and part-time student in hospitality and tourism. After a brief marriage to her long-time love, a Pan Am captain, she moved to New York to regroup. For one year, she rode the subway at 4 a.m. every day to run an in-house restaurant for a large Manhattan law firm.
But after 20 years in the United States, with aging parents in Canada, she returned to Ottawa in 1987. With a master’s degree in hospitality and tourism from Florida International University in hand, she began her final career teaching the subject at Algonquin College.
Having a job with somewhat regular hours allowed Paula to do something she had always wanted – foster animals. Over time, hundreds of cats and dogs from the Ottawa Humane Society passed through the Kerr household. Paula could always find room for just one more needy animal. One Christmas there were 11 dogs competing for attention in her kitchen. She especially loved fostering hard-to-place animals and rejoiced when they found happy homes. Not every dog or cat moved on, however, many finding forever homes in Paula’s house.
Sadly, in her final years she struggled with insomnia, depression and chronic pain from a back injury suffered at Pan Am. When she passed away, she left behind three misfit dogs who adored her, six cats and two birds. She would be pleased to know that all of them, save one, found wonderful new homes after her death.
Wendy Kerr Hadley is Paula’s younger sister.