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The history of Arizona's physicians is rich in mystery, controversy, innovation and pride. Since the settlers first inhabited the territory, physicians have been a part of Arizona's legacy. They helped shape the culture of this Great State and set the standard for the quality of care delivered to its citizens. The Physicians of Interest page on this website highlights the historical work of Arizona's physicians and the roles they played while shaping the State's future. The biography of a new physician will be added each month and in time, the page will represent a patchwork of the names and faces that brought medicine in Arizona to life.

John Kerr, M.D.

Dr. John Kerr was the East Valley's first pediatrician when he launched his practice in 1954 and has treated sprains and sniffles at Sunshine Acres since the children's home opened a year later. He charged $4 for an office visit, made frequent house calls and tackled the scourges of the day: Measles, mumps, polio and meningitis.

Kerr's legendary career as a pediatrician is surpassed only by his career as an East Valley public servant, having helped create the area's primary social service agencies as a founding board member. He also spent a decade on the board of the Mesa Unified School District.

Jim Dingman, founder of Sunshine Acres, contacted Kerr when the home for abused and neglected children opened on what was then bare desert along Higley Road, asking the doctor to come out and give physicals to the home's first residents - 10 boys.

Although Kerr retired in January on his 80th birthday, he told Carol Whitworth, executive director of Sunshine Acres and daughter of Jim and Vera Dingman, that he will keep his malpractice insurance current and his black bag nearby in case he is ever needed at Sunshine Acres. And he remains president of the home's board. In his retirement, Kerr still provides free medical care to children at the East Valley Child Crisis Center, St. Vincent de Paul and a Mesa clinic.

Kerr also helped to create PREHAB, the MARC Center and the East Valley Behavioral Health Association - serving on their founding boards after seeing the need for alternative schools and mental health treatment for children and adolescents. PREHAB offers residential treatment and outpatient counseling for troubled youths and their families, but began in 1971 as an alternative school for kids kicked out of Mesa public schools.

"He always wanted to make sure that kids got a fair shake," said PREHAB executive director Michael Hughes. "A lot of people can give money or can give their name," Hughes said. "The thing that was different about him, which was incredible, was he gave his time and his expertise."

Kerr is quick to remind people that his wife has been active in the community all along. John and Betty Kerr were once named Mesa man and woman of the year, the only time a couple has been so honored.

Pediatrics has changed dramatically since Kerr treated Giles for mumps and a Mesa child died every year from measles or meningitis. Vaccines and antibiotics are among the biggest advances, he said, as well as subspecialties and behavioral health care for children.

As medicine wiped out polio, mumps and measles, societal changes ushered in childhood obesity, violence and child abuse.

Kerr understood the connection between children's mental and physical health, and was instrumental in creating agencies that addressed the behavioral health needs of families.

"We tried to develop community organizations and help for these sorts of societal problems," he said, where parents and children could get help. "I consider that as much of a contribution as anything."

This Physician of Interest biography was derived from excerpts from:
Mary K. Reinhart, East Valley Tribune, Published November 1, 2003

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