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'He loved to help': Family, friends remember Newmarket's Dave Kerwin

Town's longest-serving councillor died this month; celebration of life planned for spring
Former Newmarket councillor Dave Kerwin and his wife, Erika Kerwin, are shown in this file photo in 2018. | Greg King for NewmarketToday

Erika Kerwin is carrying on in the home she and her husband, Dave Kerwin, made together.

The well-known 39-year Newmarket councillor died this month at age 84, leaving behind a long legacy with the town and community.

Looking back, Kerwin said she is grateful for all her husband achieved as a councillor and over his life.

“He saw there was so much that could be changed,” she said, adding, “He loved to help. He loved to just be involved and have a say. He achieved a lot that way.”

The pair met when Kerwin had decided to teach at a Canadian Armed Forces base in Germany. She was teaching at a high school close by, with respective schools having social and sports events.

It was not long before they got together, she said. They would be married for 55 years.

“Very, very wonderful life together,” she said.

After moving back to Canada, Kerwin applied for an opening at Huron Heights Secondary School when it opened around 1962, settling in Newmarket. She described a culture shock as they navigated problems at the school, but said he was able to make an impact and connect with many students.

It was tennis where Dave Kerwin first got heavily involved in a Newmarket municipal issue. The couple are tennis enthusiasts, but Erika Kerwin said the courts at Lions Park were “just horrible” and decided to push the town on the issue. Eventually, it led to downtown tennis courts getting built.

“Dave very quickly felt he would really love to be involved in the town,” she said.

Newmarket first elected Dave Kerwin in 1976. He successfully ran again for many years until 2018, serving continuously except for a losing bid for mayor that kept him off council between 1993 and 1996.

The municipality credits him as a “driving force” behind many projects that shaped Newmarket, including the revitalization of the downtown, the renovation of the Old Town Hall, the NewRoads Performing Arts Centre and creation of the Tom Taylor Trail.

Trails were a particular passion of his, Erika Kerwin said.

“Hiking and outdoors was important in Germany, so he brought that with him,” she said. “He really liked being involved.

“Dave actually always stood up for what he felt was right. It wasn’t always easy.”

Newmarket resident Brian Andrews had a friendship with Kerwin, with the late councillor helping Andrews in a losing council bid last year. Andrews said Kerwin offered advice on being in office, and the importance of being present for people.

Andrews recounted a story from his friend about a resident complaining that the town had damaged his blue box. Kerwin purchased a blue box and brought it to the resident himself.

“Simple things to make people happy,” Andrews said. “That’s why people loved him.”

Many have described him as being a jovial, upbeat person.

“He never had anything really bad to say about people,” Andrews said. “If he had a gripe with somebody, he tried to look at the good, too. He was always positive. I don’t think he had a mean bone in his body.”

Erika said her husband was approached to run federally at one point, but he decided he did not want to go to Ottawa and potentially make little impact on the backbenches.

“He made the right decision,” she said. “He said, ‘I’ll be away from my family … This is not where I can actually make such a difference.’”

Losing the mayor’s race in 1993 was tough on him, she said, but it did allow them to get a break. They loved to travel and would often regale others about their various trips around the world.

“Life went on, and he stayed connected. He was always very positive, never said a bad word,” she said.

But he ran again to take back a councillor seat, which he held until 2018.

After that, he retired, famously handing his wife an empty shoebox to signify they would not be on the campaign trail again. Soon after, they took a trip to Australia and New Zealand.

“The longer time went on, he kept saying how we made the right decision (to retire),” she said. “He enjoyed the peace and quiet.”

She looked back fondly at all the parts of the town he helped build and all the people who gave thanks to him for that.

“He achieved what every politician, in a way, or person in public life, should be able to do,” she said.

But he did not entirely depart from political issues, getting heavily involved in campaigning for Andrews’ council bid in 2022.

“He was just a pleasure to be around. I don’t think anyone wouldn’t have loved to chat with him.” Andrews said. “He was a force.”

Despite no longer being on town council, he regularly took calls to help people.

Sarosh Anwar, a family friend who considered Kerwin like a father, said people would approach him in the community like he was an elder. 

“That was his standing from representing the people of the town for so long. Without overstepping bounds or anything, he was the person people turned to for connection, for networks that he had," she said. 

Many have left their condolences and reminisced about Kerwin, whether for his time as a councillor, teacher or both. Town council had its own presentation and moment of silence to recognize the man.

Erika expressed appreciation for all the tributes and praises for her late husband.

“My life will go on,” she said. “We always talked about it. ‘One of us dies, you have to keep doing the things you enjoy.’”

A celebration of life is being planned for the spring, with a date yet to be announced.

“I just miss him very much, but he’ll be around and everywhere I look,” she said. “He was a wonderful man. He was really, really great to live with.”