Broadcast journalist and naturalist Jenette Sherman Kerr died at her home in Truro on Oct. 16, 2023. The cause was pancreatic cancer. She was 68.
Jenette was the marketing and communications coordinator at Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. She began working at the Sanctuary in 2011 as a field technician for its coastal waterbird program.
Jenette was born in New York City on June 25, 1955. Her father, David C.G. Kerr, who was in law school at NYU at the time, moved the family to Florida after graduation to start a legal practice there. Jenette grew up in Tampa, where, her sister Sandi said, “she was always smarter than anyone else on the block.” Her mother, Frances Bingham Kerr, still lives in Tampa.
Jenette spent summers in Truro when she was growing up. Her grandparents, George and Janet Tenney, owned two houses on Depot Road, the main one named Aunt Thankful’s House and a smaller one nearby called Pine Acre. Jenette never missed a summer there. She especially loved to sail, which she learned to do at the Pamet Harbor Yacht Club.
After graduating from H.B. Plant High School in Tampa in 1973, Jenette enrolled at Hollins University in Roanoke, Va. During her sophomore year, she took an internship at WDBJ, the local CBS-TV station. She worked on a documentary on battered women that set her on a path to a career in broadcast journalism. She graduated with a political science degree in 1977 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.
After college, Jenette moved to Truro to work as a news reporter for two radio stations, WVLC and WLOM, that have since closed. In 1980, she moved to Boston to work as a news reporter and anchor for WROR. From there she was recruited in 1983 by ABC News in New York City for its Contemporary News Network Division.
Jenette covered the Live Aid benefit concert from Philadelphia and the reopening of the restored Statue of Liberty in New York City. She covered Ronald Reagan’s reelection in 1984 alongside broadcast icon Robert Trout, and she shared a newsroom with Howard Cosell. She was friends with Nanci Donnellan, one of the first women to have a nationally syndicated sports radio show.
She was an on-air reporter in Boston and Chicago before changing careers in 1998 to join JP Morgan Chase, where she worked until 2007.
The Cape always drew her back, though, and inspired another career change. She studied in the Cornell Ornithology Program and earned a master gardener certificate, also from Cornell. She joined the Audubon Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary in Natick in 2009 and then came to work at Wellfleet Bay.
Audubon Regional Director Melissa Lowe said Jenette’s work encompassed local, national, and even international press coverage of everything from the Sanctuary’s sea turtle rescue teams to bird walks to school field trips.
“She lived to support her colleagues,” Lowe said. Sanctuary volunteer Lois Bartels remembered Jenette’s way of asking insightful questions. “She was truly a gift,” Bartels said. Morgan Peck, the Sanctuary’s day camp director, saw a rainbow over the marsh on the day after Jenette’s death and felt sure it was “a little gift from Jenette.”
“Jenette inspired and continues to inspire each one of us to remain curious; to celebrate our work of conserving land, protecting wildlife, getting people outside into nature,” Lowe said. “She loved, respected, and protected all animals, big and small.”
At her home in Truro, Jenette had bird feeders. According to Sandi, Jenette “never turned any animal away.” The birds would scatter seed for the chipmunks, and when the chipmunks were away, turkeys would get their share. She would laugh as she retrieved and set up the feeders again whenever raccoons dragged them away.
As a gesture of remembrance, Jenette’s friends and family are keeping the feeders full through this fall and coming winter. When Jenette’s friend James Nielsen went into the Bird Watcher’s General Store in Orleans to buy the seed, his money was refused. “The owners did it for Jenette,” James said.
Jenette is survived by her mother, Frances Bingham Kerr of Tampa; her sister, Sandi Kerr Lewis, also of Tampa; and her brother, Charlie Kerr, and wife Joanne of St. Petersburg, Fla. She also leaves niece Kate Lewis Collins of Greenville, S.C.; nephews Joey Kerr and wife Caitlyn of St. Petersburg and Jeremy Kerr of College Station, Texas; and grandniece Jordan Kerr of St. Petersburg. She was grateful to her cousin, Eric Bingham, and his wife, Catherine, who live in Truro and provided loving care and support.
Jenette was predeceased by her father, David C.G, Kerr, and his wife, Helen.
The family is grateful for the devotion of James Nielsen, Karen Dourdeville, and Susan Brennan to Jenette during her illness. They also wish to thank the VNA hospice team for their loving care.
A celebration of life will be held at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in the early summer of 2024.
In lieu of flowers, gifts can be made to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to support pancreatic cancer research at P.O. Box 849168, Boston 02284 or online at dana-farber.org/gifts, or to the Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in memory of Jenette Kerr by mail to Anna Baker, Mass Audubon, 208 South Great Rd., Lincoln 01773.