Gail Kerr (and one of her recipes)

Catherine and Gail at Oyster Easter 2003

Catherine and Gail at Oyster Easter 2003

First, I would just like to say that I hope the Ryman Auditorium is available for Gail Kerr’s funeral because First Presbyterian Church Downtown is not going to hold all the people who will want to attend.  Side note: For those of you who don’t know, Gail was a prominent and beloved columnist for The Tennessean and tonight you can barely get a word in edgewise praising her on Facebook (for which, I am slightly certain, she would be mortified).

Second, I would like to note that this sucks. Gail would concur. The thought had occurred to her that the end might be sooner than later (we talked about it at lunch a few weeks ago). But it was not the game plan.

You will have to indulge me. I am having a glass of wine. Gail would be – and I hope is – doing the same right now. So let’s take a little stroll down Memory Lane.

1997. The Tennessean. I am the assistant managing editor for news and Gail is a team leader (she wrangled a group of 5-6 reporters). The city editor leaves and I promote Gail to city editor. It was the job of her dreams. And she was a dream of a city editor.

Dang it. I just started crying again. Stop it.

So, we were partners in crime. Human Resources would have been appalled. So many things we did not share with them. I won’t go into them here. She took that to the grave and I will, too. But I will share we had a little ritual when someone we didn’t like left the paper. They would resign, just the leave taker, me and her in my office. We would look very sad. They would exit and I would close the door. And then we had this mini-wave using just our fingers flapping toward our palms. And we would laugh and say, “Bye bye.”

We shared many a night at a local bar drinking wine. Probably ill advised. She was bawdy and smart and compassionate. And here’s the most important thing you need to know about Gail Kerr. She was loyal. After I was essentially booted out of The Tennessean, a lot of so-called friends faded away, my perceived power gone. Not Gail. It did not even cross her mind, for which I will be eternally grateful.

Did I mention Gail was a dribbler? It actually was a joke. We’d eat lunch and no matter the food or the utensil, at some point a drop of food would land on her blouse. Each and every time. She finally found those Tide instant wipe-up things and that helped enormously.

So then she got sick. And it never occurred to me that she wouldn’t get well again. The good die young? No, no, no. When we had lunch at the Turnip Truck a few weeks ago, she filled her plate and ate every scrap. I hadn’t seen her do that in two years. I was encouraged and I told her so. She said she wasn’t afraid of dying, just the process. And I told her I felt in my heart that it wasn’t her time yet. I hate to be wrong. So did she.

Gail was also a very good cook. Here’s your Gail tip: On the weekends, she would fire up the grill and cook chicken, sausage, pork chops, whatever. And then store it in the fridge to use later in the week. Smart cookie.

I wish I had a better ending to a story that has a heart-breaking end, particularly for her husband, Les. It’s nice to go on and on talking about Gail’s legacy and her professionalism on Facebook. And it’s all true. But at the end of the day, this day, one of the few people who had a truly nice, selfless and compassionate soul has flown the coop. I am glad I am a religious person, as was she. I know there’s some splatter of pulled pork on her blouse right now. Tide clean-ups not necessary.


Pepper Steak
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2
  • 1 ½ pounds round steak
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 beef bouillon cube
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce,
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • Salt, pepper, garlic powder and cayenne powder to taste
  • 1 green pepper, sliced into strips
  • 1 medium onion, sliced into strips
  • Rice
  1. Cut the steak into strips and brown in vegetable oil in two to three batches so the meat has room to brown and form a nice crust. Set aside.
  2. Combine the ketchup, water, bouillon cube, soy sauce, flour and seasonings. Add that to the skillet you browned the meat in and simmer for five minutes. Add the meat back and simmer on low heat for 90 minutes. Add the green pepper and onion while you cook the rice.
  3. Serve the pepper steak over rice.
This is a 1970s Southern Living recipe that never fails. It's awesome - makes the house smell good, the cook can drink and watch Dancing With the Stars (Go, Donny!) while it's cooking, it's cheap and the round steak ends up totally tender.

I have made this for years, as did my mother and sister.


  1. Susan Harbin
    Susan HarbinReply
    March 26, 2014 at 7:19 am

    Catherine, I am so sorry tohear that you (and many others) lost Gail. Prayers for peace and grace- for all of her family and friends. Life just isn’t fair, and neither is death…

  2. julie Reinhardt
    March 27, 2014 at 12:01 am

    Thank you for giving us some of your stories together. It’s never long enough, especially with the good ones. Raising my glass to you, and her, right now.

  3. Catherine Mayhew
    Catherine MayhewReply
    March 27, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    Thanks, Julie. Gail and I closed down many a bar back in the day.

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