BOSTON — Boston’s philanthropic community is mourning the loss of Myra Kraft. The wife of Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, died Wednesday of cancer. She was 68.
Kraft will be remembered by many for the impact she made on charities in the Boston area.
The first time I met Myra Kraft was at the family’s home on the Cape. I was there to interview her husband for a story, but I wasn’t the only visitor. The house was being used for a photo shoot.
As workers tramped through the hallways carrying equipment, I thanked Mrs. Kraft for letting me into her home, and she just smiled, as if to say “opening your doors and giving up your private time for others is just… what you do.”
Even on holidays. Last Thanksgiving, Myra and Robert Kraft and the Patriots’ foundation passed out baskets of food and household items to families in need at Goodwill’s headquarters in Roxbury.
“(Myra Kraft was) such a lovely, down-to-earth person,” said Joanne Hilferty, who runs Goodwill for eastern and central Massachusetts.
While some kids high-fived Pats players, Myra sat and read to others. Hilftery remembers that Mrs. Kraft looked thinner than normal, but she looked as happy as ever.
“You could see it was not just the idea of helping people, but it was the people that moved her,” Hilferty said.
The philanthropy bent came from family. Myra Kraft’s father, Jacob Hiatt, was a prominent businessman and donor in Worcester. When she was only 5 years old, Myra Hiatt dragged a sack around her neighborhood to collect money for World War II refugees.
She married Robert Kraft in 1963 and Myra increasingly used her wealth and position to help others.
“She did things publicly, she did things privately,” said Nancy Kaufman, who used to run the Jewish Community Relations Council for the Boston area.
Kaufman says Myra Kraft would hear about things, say the plight of Ethiopian Jews in Israel, and would immediately write a check.
“Folding them up in little pieces, which she did many times, and handing them to me because she heard something that moved her,” Kaufman said.
But Myra Kraft was far more than a checkbook donor. She managed the Kraft family foundation and that of the New England Patriots. She served on the board of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston and on the board of Combined Jewish Philanthropies.
Peter Karoff runs the Philanthropic Initiative, a Boston group that advises donors. He says Myra Kraft was a rare example of what he calls “donor leaders.”
They are people “who, in addition to the financial resources they bring to the table, they bring themselves to the table, they bring their soul and their passion and their leadership and their ideas,” Karoff said.
One example: even though Jewish causes were close to Myra Kraft’s heart, she’d support non-Jewish charities instead if she thought they would be more effective.
Kraft was “terribly impressive,which is why she’ll be so much missed,” Karoff said.
One person who’s going to miss her is Kathy Redmond. Redmond was a college freshman when she says a football player at Nebraska raped her. Twice. Later, the New England Patriots drafted him.
Kathy said Myra Kraft, after hearing about the player’s violence against women, spoke up.
“She personally went to Bob and said ‘No, you don’t bring this guy onto the team,’” Redmond said.
Just a week after the Patriots drafted the player, they cut him.
“For me, it was, without being dramatic — there was a part of that that was life-saving,” Redmond said.
Myra Kraft, who spent much of her life trying to improve the lives of others, lost hers to cancer on June 20, 2011.