Obituary: Bert Kerr, Stalwart of Scottish table tennis who won 166 international caps

Robert ‘Bert’ Kerr, table tennis player. Born: 4 April, 1933 in Edinburgh. Died: 7 June, 2020 in Edinburgh, aged 87,

Bert Kerr has died at the age of 87

Bert Kerr, one of the enduring stalwarts of Scottish table tennis, has died after a lengthy battle against cancer. The five-times Scottish National Singles Champion was for many years, prior to the club’s demise in 1989, a leading light with the capital’s Gambit Table Tennis Club.

Raised in Sighthill, a former pupil of Boroughmuir High School, Bert left at 15 to go to the Edinburgh School of Building, and from there into the building trade, with Colin McAndrew and Partners, as an apprentice joiner.

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Later, he would use his tradesman’s qualifications to switch into teaching, initially at Portobello High School, before he became Head of the Technical Department at Ainslie Park School. He recruited many of his pupils as table tennis players during his long career.

He had taken up table tennis, joining Gambit in 1948, while still a teenaged schoolboy. He immediately showed a gift for the game and was quickly promoted to the club’s first team, where he formed a deadly doubles partnership with two-times world doubles champion and long-time Scotland internationalist Helen Elliott.

During World War II, Gambit provided a home-from-home for a number of very-good English and Polish players posted to the capital, and these players, plus Gambit’s own strong string of Scottish players such as Bert, enabled the club to win the Scottish Team Cup on a record 24 occasions. Gambit also won the Edinburgh and District League 31 times between 1944 and 1981. This included a run of nine-in-a-row between 1965 and 1974, during which Bert only lost once.

Later, as club chairman, due to the rising costs of hall hire, he took the painful decision to close-down Gambit, but he continued to play for Edinburgh University and Lasswade, until knee problems forced him to retire from the game.

Bert’s prowess was internationally recognised. While doing his National Service with the Royal Air Force, he was posted to RAF Wildenrath in Germany, and while there he played for RSV, one of Germany’s top clubs. He was an outstanding defensive player, a gift he put down to his time in Germany.

His Scotland career lasted over two decades, during which he garnered 166 caps, and played in five World Championships. In the 1957 World Championships, in Stockholm, Bert was one-fifth of a Scotland squad drawn entirely from the Gambit club.

He won 20 Scottish Open titles and 39 Scottish Closed titles (entry restricted to Scottish players), including one Mixed Doubles win with wife Pat.

In 1967 he succeeded Eddie Still as the STTA’s Director of Coaching. It was a role he was ideally placed to fill, since he was always encouraging of young talent. This included him being instrumental in the setting-up of the Edinburgh Development squad, based at Moray House. The governing body also made him the first winner of its Kirkwood Trophy, for his outstanding services to the game, and, in 2002, he was awarded Honorary Life Membership.

But, he was not a table tennis obsessive. He put his trade skills to good use, crafting musical instruments such as violins and lutes, while in his later years, he played a mean game of golf at Baberton, where he was Senior Champion in 1993 and Captain from 1994 to 1996.

In 2006, he was a member of the Baberton Seniors team which won the Lothians Senior Team Championship, while in 2002, he had been Lothians Senior Champion.

Throughout all this, up until her untimely death he had the support of his wife Pat, like him a fine table tennis player, appropriately enough, they met through table tennis. Bert is survived by his three children Susan, David and Robert and their families.

The Scottish Table Tennis Association intends to arrange a Memorial Service, to mark Bert’s contribution to his sport, once the Covid-19 lockdown regulations are eased and this is possible.

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