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Walter Kerr (91) who raised millions for kidney research charity laid to rest

By Angela Rainey

A charity stalwart who co-founded the Northern Ireland Kidney Research Fund raising over £2m in his lifetime has died.

Walter Kerr (91), died peacefully in Iveagh House care home in Banbridge on Saturday morning.

Hundreds of mourners packed out the service yesterday at Donacloney Presbyterian Church. He was then buried in the adjoining graveyard alongside his beloved wife Josie. He had one sister and three brothers and is survived by only one, Jack, who is aged in his nineties.

Described as "a quiet and private man", Mr Kerr worked as a dairy farmer his whole life in the Ballylough area of Waringstown in Co Down, following in the footsteps of his parents.

He and wife Josie, a former post-mistress in the village, married in 1959, and dedicated their lives to funding research into kidney disease.

Together they set up the Northern Ireland Kidney Research Fund in 1970 after Josie suffered renal failure following childbirth.

The couple had three children over eight years in the 1970s, but their first baby lived only for a matter of hours.

Mr and Mrs Kerr then had another two children but one also died at birth and the other survived just days due to consuming toxins that could not be flushed by Josie's kidneys while pregnant.

After the third birth, Josie was rushed to Belfast City Hospital where she was not expected to survive kidney failure, but beat the odds by coming back from the brink of death.

In 1971, in a bid to raise funds for the charity and awareness of the condition, Mr Kerr organised his first car rally through Waringstown.

A car enthusiast, Mr Kerr remained a member of the group until his death but did not drive in the last two years due to his ailing health.

Over his lifetime through his charity work, he was instrumental in raising millions of pounds for Northern Ireland Kidney Research Fund for which he was life president.

While Josie, who "was the love of his life", received an MBE in 1979 for her efforts in promoting kidney awareness.

A memorial plaque was erected in Waringstown, near the Grange following her death in 1993, aged 63.

Friend John Harrison said: "I knew Walter growing up.

"He was well known in the area and for his work with the Northern Ireland Kidney Research Fund.

"He would chauffeur Josie all over Northern Ireland as she could not drive.

"He was also a member of the Waringstown Vintage Cavalcade and set up the first charity drive in 1971.

"It was agreed that it would take place on the last Friday in June - now each year, 12 groups throughout the province take part."

Anne Hyland, a volunteer with the fund also paid tribute to Mr Kerr, who she described as "kind hearted and caring".

She said: "Walter was good fun and he enjoyed the craic.

"He was very tall and thin, and he had a real presence.

"After they lost the children and with Josie nearly dying, the pair wanted to buy equipment for the Renal Unit at the City Hospital but they were told that what was really needed was research.

"The first sum they raised was £250 which was a lot of money in the 70s.

"Walter knew the benefit of funding research and was an advocate for transplants, donor cards and more recently living donors.

"He will be a big miss."

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