The Amazon River city of Manaus has begun three days of official mourning for the death of a beekeeper. He was the beekeeper, research scientist, geneticist, educator, and political activist, Dr Warwick Kerr. The mayor of Manaus declared the tribute and the city’s two million residents were reminded of the man who worked tirelessly to improve the welfare of the people of the rainforest and all of Brazil.
Most people will know of Dr Kerr for bringing Africanized genetic stock to Brazil to replace the less-adapted European bees which were not doing well in the tropics. His work resulted in a vast increase in Brazil’s honey production (from 15 million to 110 million pounds per year). I wrote about Dr Kerr on Saturday, the day he died, but as we take one last look at Professor Kerr’s life, I will share part of his family’s official statement. I received it from Warwick Kerr’s granddaughter and I have copy-edited it just a bit. The granddaughter, Dr Priscilla Kerr, also sent photographs, so I am sharing two of them here.
We report with extreme regret the death of our father, Professor Warwick Estevam Kerr, an engaged citizen-scientist and one of the world’s foremost experts in bees. He was the first scientific director of FAPESP (São Paulo State Research Foundation), Director of INPA (Amazon National Research Institute), and Rector of UEMA (State University of Maranhão). He graduated from ESALQ (Advanced School of Agriculture Luiz de Queiroz), while holding a teaching position in the Department of Genetics. He founded departments of Biology in the Faculty of Philosophy, Science and Literature in the State University of São Paulo at Rio Claro, in the Faculty of Medicine in the University of São Paulo at Ribeirão Preto, Biology in the Federal University of Maranhão, and contributed substantially to the development of the Institute of Genetics and Biochemistry in the Federal University of Uberlândia, among numerous other academic accomplishments.
He served as president of the SBPC (Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science) and the SBG (Brazilian Society of Genetics). He was a member of the ABC (Brazilian Academy of Sciences), Member of the Third World Academy and the first Brazilian scientist to be voted a member of the US National Academy of Sciences in recognition of his scientific productivity.
Throughout his life he was involved with research that yielded advances in the management and taming of African bees, that escaped from captivity after he brought them to Brazil in 1956, and are now very important in Brazilian honey production. Dr. Kerr worked under the principle of the inseparability of teaching, research and service, seeking to establish long-term relations with the community and with social movements, in order to transfer capacity and the results of research.
His socialist convictions led to two arrests during the military dictatorship established in 1964 and constant surveillance from authorities during the dictatorship. His generous spirit from early in his life led him to embrace socialism, and to act to build a just and egalitarian society where science and other knowledge are at the service of the majority of the population.
He died in Ribeirão Preto at age 96, of respiratory arrest at 9:00 hours on September 15, 2018.
He is survived by his children Florence, Lucy, Américo, Jacira, Ligia Regina and Tânia, 17 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.