Health and Medicine

225 Years of Tar Heels: Banks D. Kerr

Banks Kerr first opened Kerr Drug in Raleigh in 1950, and the specialty pharmacy and drug store became a popular retail chain across the region, eventually holding 95 locations throughout the state.

Banks Kerr stands for a photo.
Banks Kerr (left) poses for a photo at a UNC Pharmacy Alumni Association event. (North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill)

225 Years.Editor’s note: In honor of the University’s 225th anniversary, we will be sharing profiles throughout the academic year of some of the many Tar Heels who have left their heelprint on the campus, their communities, the state, the nation and the world.

When the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy dedicated Kerr Hall in 2002, then-Dean William Campbell said of the building’s namesake Banks D. Kerr, “Mr. Kerr really enjoyed store openings … But I know if Mr. Kerr was here, he would say, ‘Let’s begin planning now.'”

The planning to come would have big payoffs as Kerr Hall, named for Kerr’s $2 million gift, launching the school into the modern era of pharmacy — one in which the scope of pharmacy education greatly expanded, as did the role of the pharmacist into an integral part of an individual’s health care team.

The new 65,000 square-foot building doubled the school’s capacity with auditorium-size lecture halls complete with cutting-edge technology, 7,759 square feet of dedicated laboratory space and a “building inside a building” to house a shared instrument facility. A bronze bust likeness of Kerr, sculpted by pharmacy alumnus David Dowdy, was placed in the lobby to greet all as they entered the building.

Kerr was a dedicated alumnus of the pharmacy school from the Class of 1943. He opened the first Kerr Drug in Raleigh in 1950, and the specialty pharmacy and drug store became a popular retail chain across the region, eventually holding 95 locations throughout North Carolina. (Walgreens acquired the company in 2013.) Kerr’s substantial gift to the school was first made anonymously as a $1 million challenge grant. When alumni so generously met that challenge, he was inspired to add another million. Sadly, Kerr passed away in 2000, before he could see the opening of the building, or how it would fill with students, faculty and researchers in the years to come.

The next decade for the pharmacy school would see unprecedented growth with an increasingly innovative vision, a satellite campus at UNC-Asheville, and a collaboration with the School of Medicine in the Genetic Medicine Building. When the school was ranked the No. 1 pharmacy school in the nation by U.S. News & World Report in 2016, Kerr’s bust proudly held a No. 1 flag.