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UC Berkeley Web Feature

Robert Kerley, former UC Berkeley vice chancellor for administration and a mentor to many, dies at age 86

  Robert F. Kerley
Robert F. Kerley when he was vice chancellor for administration. (Ed Kirwan photos)
BERKELEY — Robert Kerley, former vice chancellor for administration at the University of California, Berkeley, died July 7 at his home in Walnut Creek, Calif., of congestive heart disease. He was 86.

In 1954, he began work at UC Berkeley as assistant business manager, then became assistant to the vice president of governmental relations with the UC Office of the President in 1960.  Kerley returned to UC Berkeley in 1972 as vice chancellor for administration and student affairs and retired from that post in 1982.

During his tenure at UC Berkeley, he also headed campus development activities for a year, starting in 1981, and from 1982 to 1983 served as president of the UC Berkeley Foundation, the campus's primary vehicle for enlisting fundraising volunteers from the private sector

Upon his retirement in 1982, Kerley received the Berkeley Citation, UC Berkeley's highest honor, and the California Alumni Association awarded Kerley the Alumni Citation for excellence in service in 1985. In 2003, Kerley was named a Berkeley Fellow, an honor bestowed on a select group of individuals recognized strictly for their service to the campus. 

Mike Smith, UC Berkeley's assistant chancellor for legal affairs, said Kerley was his mentor and boss and "a father figure for many people, including a generation of Associated Students (of the University of California) leaders who grew up under his tutelage."

He described Kerley as a candid, honest and no-nonsense man who was easy to communicate and work with.

Randy Parent, executive director of the California Alumni Association, recalled meeting Kerley when Parent was a student in 1976 and the incoming senior manager of the Cal Band, which was preparing to embark on a bi-centennial tour of the country. The band's fundraising efforts were about $25,000 short and Parent approached Kerley to see if the administration could help.

"He told me I would need to ask the chancellor, and he helped me set up a meeting for me to ask Chancellor Albert Bowker for help," Parent recalled. "I found out later that he could have given me the money himself, but he wanted me to have the experience of asking the Chancellor.  He paved the way for me — he had cleared it with Chancellor Bowker before I went to see him, which of course I did not know.  What made the impression on me was that he was taking the time to connect with me, he was able to convey support and good humor, and took an interest in leading me to experiences that were an important part of my education."

Born in Oakland in August 1920, Kerley enlisted in World War II as a private in 1942 and left as a major in 1946, after serving in the 15th Army group in Italy.

In 1951, he earned a B.S. degree in business administration at UC Berkeley. 

He joined the University of Kentucky in 1964 as vice president for business affairs and treasurer, and then served as vice president for administration and treasurer of Johns Hopkins University.

After retiring from UC Berkeley, Kerley served as a special assistant to the board chair and as the chief financial officer for Hastings College of Law in San Francisco. He also established his own consulting firm and traveled through the United States, helping college and university administrators manage business and financial matters.

Kerley was a founding member and chair of the governing board of the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, the first organization run by and for people with disabilities. The organization first began as the Physically Disabled Students Program, launched by a group of disabled students at UC Berkeley. Kerley was a charter member of the governing board of the World Institute on Disability.  He also served as an advisory trustee of Alta Bates Medical Center. 

"Any time I see a student in a wheelchair, I think of him," said John Cummins, UC Berkeley's assistant chancellor.

Kerley also served as a member of the board of regents of John F. Kennedy University in Pleasant Hill, Calif., as a member and chair of the National Association of Colleges and Universities, and on the Council on Higher Education. 

Kerley was known for his life-long interest in mentoring students, a quick wit and his love for his family, home, gardening and golf.

Kerley is survived by his wife, Betty; daughters, Kathleen James of Dallas, Ore., Maureen Douglas of Bend, Ore., Barbara Neill of Austin, Texas; son, William Kerley of Austin, Texas; and stepchildren, Katherine Strehl of Menlo Park, Calif.; and William Strehl of Noti, Ore. He had 10 grandchildren.

A memorial service is set for 11:30 a.m. (moved back from 10:30), Thursday, Aug. 10, at the Fireside Room of the Gateway Clubhouse at Rossmoor, a community in Walnut Creek, Calif., where he was a 30-year resident. Contributions in Kerley's memory may be made to the Robert F. Kerley Scholarship Fund (064960), 2080 Addison St., Berkeley, Calif., 94720, or to Hospice of Contra Costa County, 3470 Buskirk Ave., Pleasant Hill, Calif., 94523.