Pat Rowe Kerr
Missouri Veterans Commission
Jefferson City, Missouri
"If you’re not part of the problem, you’re part of the solution." Pat Rowe Kerr lives by these words, never stopping until a solution is found for the military families she serves. Recently, she arranged 24-hour child care, cooking, cleaning, and transportation services for a mother of four who broke both arms while her husband was in Iraq. Pat coordinated volunteers and sometimes drove 40 miles to help out herself.
She became all too familiar with the problems that military families face when her daughter, Capt. Kate Numerick, then the mother of 13-month-old Abraham, was deployed to Iraq in 2003. The family was facing its own state of emergency: Pat’s husband was recovering from a serious car accident, leaving Pat as the sole care provider for their grandson.
Only weeks later, she organized the first of several "Support Your Troops" events on the lawn of the Missouri state capitol, with speakers ranging from the mother of a soldier to a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. Besides organizing events, Pat also began advocating on behalf of troops—always looking for ways to fill the gaps in government assistance for soldiers, whether in health care, income, or legal matters.
Eventually the Missouri Veterans Commission asked Pat to raise awareness of its advocacy programs, and in 2004 she left her work as a court reporter to become the Missouri State Veterans Ombudsman—the first of its kind in the nation—where she created the support program Operation Outreach. Through this program, Pat—who has testified before a subcommittee of Congress—has coordinated more than $1 million in resources and benefits to military families and veterans.
For proof that compassion begins at home, consider Pat’s grandson, Abraham—an infant when his mother left for Iraq—who is now 5. When he told Pat he had 11 cents he wanted to give to her injured soldiers, the idea was born for a patriotic educational program in which schoolchildren give 11 cents on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Veteran’s Day. In two years, Missouri’s children have raised $50,000 for the needs of citizen soldiers. "This is not about politics," Pat says—never forgetting that her mission began at home with her daughter’s deployment—"but about supporting the troops and their families."
Photograph: Michael Weschler
Text: Akiko Busch