VIVIENNE Kerr, the matriarch of Carlton’s Kerr family and for 20 years the No.1 female ticketholder of the Club that captivated her for most of her life, has passed away suddenly at the age of 93.
Vivienne’s affinity for her beloved Blues endured for almost three quarters of a century, to when her husband of 54 years Laurie Kerr first chased the leather for the old dark Navy Blues.
Ironically, neither Vivienne nor Laurie - whom she met at a dance when he was filing copy as a journalist for The Argus - could lay claim to Carlton as their initial club of choice. Laurie originally supported Collingwood and Vivienne Fitzroy – the latter in keeping with her mother’s staunch allegiance to the Maroons.
“As a wee kid I used to be taken to the footy to watch Fitzroy and Haydn Bunton because Bunton, Frank Curcio and ‘Chicken’ Smallhorn were my mother’s heroes,” Vivienne told this reporter in an interview in 2007.
“Laurie loved Collingwood, and he used to ride his bike from Kew to Collingwood, chain his bike up and watch the team play.
“I barracked for Fitzroy before Laurie went to Carlton. I saw the last premiership Fitzroy won. I remember Fred Hughson, Noel Jarvis and Alan Ruthven, and they’re the ones that Laurie subsequently played against.”
By Vivienne’s own reckoning, the initial Carlton overtures came after The Argus posted her husband to Canberra to cover parliamentary happenings – and it was her father who led them both on their pilgrimages to Princes Park.
“My father, Harry Devine, idolised Laurie and couldn’t believe that into his family had come this fellow who was fast and who could kick a football. My Dad had played footy for Carlton and Fitzroy seconds … and he knew Harry Bell, the secretary of Carlton, very well,” Vivienne said.
“My father said to Harry: ‘Laurie’s very good’, and he’d already mentioned the same to Ken Luke (the then Carlton President) because Ken was one of my Dad’s best and oldest friends.”
Vivienne recalled that on Laurie’s return from the nation’s capital, her father arranged for Bell to visit their home in Ivanhoe where Laurie somewhat begrudgingly agreed to front for a forthcoming Carlton training session.
“Laurie ran around once while Ken Luke, Harry Bell and Newton Chandler were watching. It was not long after the premiership year, and they needed a new wingman,” Vivienne said.
“Anyway, they called him over and Ken Luke said: ‘You’re in – you’ll be playing in the first game on the wing’. Laurie graduated at Melbourne Uni on the day of the last practice match, and he raced over to Carlton and played. He sprained his ankle and wasn’t able to play for another 12 weeks, but as soon as he got fit he broke into the Carlton team, against North Melbourne.
“The Carlton Football Club was everything to Laurie. Playing football for Carlton meant a lot to him. He was loyal to Carlton, loved Carlton and tried to help Carlton in any way that he could. He gave his all for the club.”
The same could be said of Vivienne herself, whose loyalty to the football club was truly matched by her dedication to family, as a mother to nine children, grandmother to 35 and great grandmother to 42.
As with Rita Silvagni and her own, Vivienne watched on from the grandstands as three generations of the Kerrs chased the leather for Carlton’s senior teams – husband Laurie in 149 games from 1950-’59, son Peter in 39 games from 1967-’70 and grandson Patrick in four games from 2017-’19. Sons Mark and Stephen played seconds and Under 19s respectively but didn’t play a senior game.
Both Laurie and Peter later committed their energies to Carlton at the boardroom table - and Laurie, as the founder of his highly-successful public relations conglomerate IPR, was a kingmaker across the sporting, political and business spheres.
Somewhat paradoxically given his line of work, Laurie preferred to operate in the background. Regardless, he was universally acknowledged as one of the country’s great movers and shakers, and the Carlton Football Club, both on and off the field, was not untouched.
At Carlton, Laurie was central to the establishment of the Carlton Cricket & Football Social Club and its 15-man committee, and he was instrumental in the audacious behind-the-scenes manoeuvrings which led to the late Ron Barassi’s appointment as Carlton Captain-Coach in late 1964.
As Vivienne recalled, the wheels were first set in motion when Laurie took a phone call from a fellow Carlton devotee and friend, the former Lord Mayor of Melbourne Sir Leo Curtis.
“In mid-1963 - I can’t remember the date but one Sunday night - Sir Leo Curtis phoned Laurie. The discussion went that perhaps Laurie might sound Ron Barassi out, so Laurie arranged a luncheon with Ron, I think at the Hotel Australia,” Vivienne said.
“Laurie was very satisfied emerging from the lunch. He didn’t put Ron in an embarrassing position by saying ‘This is what you must do’. It was just to sow the seed. This was what Laurie did, and that was how he operated. He did some amazing things in his life.
“It was maybe 10 months later that Ron was approached by Graham Emanuel and Kevin McEncroe on behalf of all members of the [Carlton Football Club] board to put the thing to Ron.”
Vivienne said that her husband and Barassi had forged a lifelong friendship when the two were locking horns in Carlton-Melbourne contests through the Redlegs’ halcyon days of the 1950s.
“Laurie and Ron had built a rapport with each other from their playing days, and Ron delivered the eulogy at Laurie’s funeral,” Vivienne said. “Ron said that the first time he met Laurie ‘was when his shoulder hit mine’, and they were both pretty tough, but they had a great, great relationship.”
Vivienne said that while her late husband never divulged the details of his conversation with Barassi at the Australia Hotel, “I knew what was happening and that they [the Sir Leo Curtis clique which included another Lord Mayor Sir Maurice Nathan and the Melbourne solicitor Emmanuel] wanted Ron to go [to Carlton].
“I never pried into his [Laurie’s] business but I know why he was approaching Ron, for sure,” she said.
“If Laurie wanted to tell me these things, he would. He definitely told me why he was approaching Ron, and I said ‘Ripper!’.
“It was terrific when Ron came to Carlton. Mind you, I could have killed him when he played for Melbourne. He was so fierce and aggressive.”
Vivienne and Laurie also founded and operated one of Australia’s finest Angus cattle properties in Yellingbo in the Yarra Valley. With an eye to innovation and global best practice they transformed the Angus breed by importing striking bulls and cows from the United States along with a handful of like-minded breeders. The property, Tibooburra became a venue for several pre season family days in the Parkin era.
Though her husband died in 2001, Vivienne upheld the Carlton-Kerr tradition. In 2004 she supported the fledgeling Women of Carlton coterie group for which her daughter Judy Mullen capably officiated as President, and in 2009 she was rewarded with Life Membership.
Six years previous, Vivienne was named the Club’s No.1 Female Ticketholder (a title that reflected her unswerving loyalty to Carlton) until she called time in 2022.
Vivienne Kerr is survived by seven of her nine children, her grandchildren, great grandchildren, and the many, many Carlton people whose lives she touched.
She loved every player who represented Carlton but revered Kernahan, Williams, Judd and Cripps in the modern era.
The Carlton players will wear black armbands into Saturday’s AFLW match with Greater Western Sydney at Henson Park as a mark of respect to the late Vivienne Kerr.
The funeral of Vivienne Kerr is to be held at Our Lady of Good Counsel, 12 Whitehorse Road, Deepdene, on Friday, October 27, commencing 11.00am, with the wake to follow at the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club.