Tucson physician who lit Olympic cauldron fondly remembered by f - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

Tucson physician who lit Olympic cauldron fondly remembered by family

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The 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid remains one of the most memorable games for the United States.

It was the Olympics that saw the U.S. hockey team beat the Soviet Union in the "miracle on ice" and Eric Heiden win five gold medals in speed skating. But for one Tucson family, the one true hero of the Winter Olympics that year was their dad.

Charles Morgan Kerr was a physician who taught psychiatry at the University of Arizona for over 29 years. As an avid runner, when he learned that team U.S.A. was looking for people to represent their state, running the Olympic torch to Lake Placid, he decided he was just the man for the job. Scott Kerr, one of Charles Kerr's five sons, said at the time, his dad had no idea how far his quest would take him.

"I remember my dad telling me that he wanted to represent the state, said Scott, "And he thought he could really do a good job doing that.

Once his dad made up his mind, said Kerr, it was tough to stop him and applying to become an Olympic torch bearer was no different.

"My dad's strength was writing and you had to write some essays and you had to write about yourself and being a representative for Arizona", said Scott, "And he ended up being selected to and do a trial run. 

The trial run was the easy part for Charles Kerr, who regularly ran marathons. Shortly after, he was notified that he had become one 52 men and women who had been selected run the torch from Hampton, Virginia to Lake Placid. 

The torchbearer, who would actually light the cauldron in the stadium to officially start the games, was chosen by the group. When the votes were tallied, it was Charles Kerr who was given the honor.

The entire Kerr family was also invited to attend the games. Looking back, another son, Tim Kerr, said it took awhile for the magnitude of the honor that had been given to his father to set in.

"It wasn't until later on until it really got into our heads that he was like in this important thing", said Tim, "And that he had been chosen, and then we got to go up there and see it, it was amazing."

Charles Kerr passed away in 1999 at the age of 64, gone too soon. But the memory of him standing in front of the cauldron in Lake Placid, uniting the world when he lit the flame to start the games, remains very much alive in the Kerr family.

"You know how they say good guys finish last, this time it didn't happen, a good guy finished on top and that's a cool story", Tim said, "I love my dad and I miss him."

The 52 men and women chosen to be members of the United States contingent represented every state, as well as Washington DC and Lake Placid. The nearly one thousand mile journey to the site of the games was designed to retrace American Revolution Bicentennial Trail.

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