Whitney Leigh Williams Kerr, 44, previously of Chicago, IL, passed away peacefully in the early hours of Tuesday, June 5, 2018. She was in her home in Fayetteville, AR, surrounded by friends and family.
Whitney Kerr was perhaps best known as co-owner and self-described “Boss Lady” of Rotofugi Designer Toy Store and Gallery, a boutique located in Chicago, IL. Whitney and her husband, Kirby Kerr, opened Rotofugi on July 3, 2004, and it quickly became known as a hub for the Chicago arts community.
The tiny mom-and-pop boutique, originally located in Chicago’s gritty Ukrainian Village neighborhood, soon attracted the attention of international artists who all hoped to show their work on the store’s gallery walls. In 2010, Whitney and Kirby relocated their business to its current larger location in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.
But for patrons of Rotofugi and for its visiting artists, Whitney will most likely be remembered for her authenticity and honesty, both as a businesswoman and as a person. She was hospitable and gracious—bygone, almost old-fashioned traits—and she was beloved for hosting and entertaining artists when they visited Chicago. Whitney was renowned for opening her home, for driving people to the city’s sights, for helping “outsiders” feel like real Chicagoans for a few days.
As a revered Chicago institution, Rotofugi has consistently won Best-Of awards from numerous industry and enthusiast arts publications since its 2004 opening, and it is considered a must-visit destination by art and “designer toy” collectors internationally. In 2013, Travel and Leisure Magazine named Rotofugi among the “World’s Greatest Toy Stores,” listing it alongside the original LEGO store in Copenhagen, historic F.A.O. Schwartz in New York City, and toy stores in Prague, Lisbon and Tokyo, and others. In 2018, the Designer Toy Awards awarded Whitney and Kirby a Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of their contributions.
Rotofugi’s out-of-the-gates success can mainly be attributed to Whitney and Kirby’s tireless work ethic and teamwork. Friends and family will remember Whitney for her uncanny, intuitive knack for business. Happy to often work behind-the-scenes, Whitney found gratification in managing the “nitty-gritty” and crunching numbers, and she constantly strategized and innovated.
With Kirby’s professional background in graphic and web design, his skills were perfect for managing the forward-facing aspects of their small business. Together asdfthey were unstoppable.
But the Kerrs’ life finally became complete with the arrival of Laszlo Ralf Kerr, born on February 2, 2014. Of all the Kerrs’ accolades, their young son was their greatest achievement.
Whitney Leigh Williams Kerr was born on May 23, 1974 in Malvern, AR. She attended Malvern High School and graduated in 1992. In 1997 she completed her BA in Chemistry at the University of Arkansas, where she was a member of Alpha Delta Pi.
After graduation, she moved to Chicago; as a young woman she had always dreamed of a life in the Windy City.
As a Chicagoan, Whitney met the love of her life, her best friend, Kirby Kerr. They married on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1998, and for the next 20 years they built the life they loved.
Getting to work together on Rotofugi, which turns 14 this year, was a dream come true for the Kerrs. Laszlo was another dream come true; Whitney, a managerial genius, turned out to be a phenomenal mother as well.
Just one year after Laszlo was born, however, Whitney was diagnosed with an aggressive type of cancer.
The Kerr family left Chicago for Fayetteville this spring, to receive love and support in Arkansas. Fayetteville was among Whitney’s last wishes: she wanted to be surrounded by family as her illness progressed, but she also wanted Kirby and Laszlo to have family close by, as well.
Whitney’s closest family and friends knew her for her quick wit. Her mother remembers Whitney as “feisty,” as a fiery woman who was always opinionated and certain of her stance. Whitney absolutely had a fighter’s spirit: She often talked about the worst, but she always believed in the best, for herself and for others.
Whitney was predeceased by her father, Dr. Ernest I. Williams, Jr. of Malvern, her paternal grandfather, Ernest I. Williams, Sr., her maternal grandparents, Ralph and Norma Day of Mt. Pleasant, TX, and her mother-in-law, Frances Kerr, of Warsaw, MO.
She is survived by her husband and best friend Kirby Kerr, son and pride of her life Laszlo Kerr, of Fayetteville, AR, parents Janet and Denny Johnson of Fayetteville, AR, paternal grandmother Elwanda McCleskey Williams of Little Rock, AR, and her sisters Jill Williams Dabbs of Bryant, AR, and Lucy Williams Ozanne and husband Dr. Benjamin Ozanne, of Fayetteville, AR.
She is also survived by father-in-law Gene Kerr, sister-in-law Carla Mason and husband Rory, brother-in-law Dennis Kerr and wife Jackie, and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts, uncles and friends who loved her dearly.
She also leaves behind many friends and patrons, innumerable, in Chicago, in Arkansas, and around the world.
The family wishes to thank Jenn Frank DiNola for her help in preparing this
The family requests donations to be used for Laszlo’s education in lieu of flowers:
Whitney Kerr Memorial Fund
Bank of the Ozarks
608 East Page Avenue
Malvern, AR 72104
…or via Paypal to Kirby via this link, please note that your payment is for the Whitney Kerr Memorial Fund. Thank you.