Myra H. Kraft (1942-2011)
While petite in size, no one ever questioned Myra Kraft's stature in the many global communities in which she did her work. She devoted her entire professional career to philanthropic pursuits, touching lives across the world, from Boston to small towns in northern Russia to Israel to South America and beyond.
Her ingenuity and passion helped an untold number of people across the globe. However, the projects closest to her heart, and in which she invested the majority of her time, energy, passion and love, were in the Greater Boston community. During her 40-plus year career as an active philanthropist, Myra served on and chaired boards and committees for virtually all of the city's major non-profit organizations. The one position of which she was most proud was becoming the first woman to serve as Chair of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston in their 110-year history. During her tenure, the club enjoyed significant growth and improved the childhoods of tens of thousands of youth in the city, forming the foundation for productive adult lives. Over the course of her philanthropic career, she invested tens of thousands of hours in charitable causes. In addition, Myra and Robert contributed well over $100 million to the organizations and causes that were most important to them. The primary focus of their giving has been on improving the lives of children and enhancing their educational opportunities. She was a passionate believer that when you help a child, you not only make their lives better, but generate a societal dividend that is incalculable.
Myra H. Kraft was born December 27, 1942 and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts, the daughter of Jacob and Francis Hiatt. She graduated from the Bancroft School and attended Brandeis University. While earning her Bachelor of Arts degree, Myra met and then married Robert Kraft. The couple raised four sons - Jonathan, Daniel, Joshua and David - in whom she instilled the values of family, faith and philanthropy and was a constant in the lives of her eight beautiful grandchildren. Family was always paramount in Myra's life. She was a beloved wife, mother and grandmother. Just last month, Myra and Robert celebrated their 48th wedding anniversary.
The base from which she operated her philanthropic works was the Robert K. and Myra H. Kraft Family Foundation, which focuses its philanthropic mission on furthering educational initiatives and the advancement of medical care and science. Through their private foundation, Myra and Robert endowed chairs and built buildings at a variety of institutions of higher education, including Boston College, Brandeis University, Columbia University, the Harvard School of Education, the Harvard Medical School and Holy Cross. In 1984, the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center was established at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which has grown to become one of the largest platelet donation centers in the world. Its leader, Dr. Kenneth Anderson, the Kraft Family Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, has used it as the platform to do groundbreaking research in the area of multiple myeloma.
Earlier this year, Myra and Robert Kraft committed their last major philanthropic act together when they announced a $20 million gift to Partners HealthCare to create The Kraft Family National Center for Leadership and Training in Community Health. The Center's mission is to improve access and quality of health care for the neediest people in our community. The gift will fund an innovative fellowship program aimed at training a new generation of community-based physician leaders to practice in community health settings. The goal is to provide the best in quality care to patients in inner cities while teaching physicians and young residents the importance of giving back to their communities through their field of medical care. Over time, the effort will help to make significant strides toward addressing and eliminating specific barriers to quality health care, not just in Boston but in communities throughout New England with a vision and hope of expanding the model to cities across America. It is designed to be a lasting legacy and could very well be the crowning achievement of a lifetime of philanthropic projects with which Myra was associated.
In 1994, after the Kraft family bought the New England Patriots, Myra took an active role in forming the mission of the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation and served as its President. Through Myra's mission statement, the foundation is committed to bettering the lives of needy families and youths across the New England region and has donated millions of dollars to nonprofits and charitable organizations throughout New England. Prior to the 2010 NFL season, as Myra battled with her own cancer, she wanted the focus of the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation to help raise the awareness about the importance of not just prevention, but early detection of all forms of the deadly disease. Throughout the 2010 season, the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation teamed with three prominent local hospitals to help raise that awareness through a season-long initiative to "Kick Cancer."
At the time of her passing, Myra sat on and held leadership positions with numerous boards, including the Board of Trustees at Brandeis University, where she was also Vice Chairman and a member of the Executive Committee. She was also on the Board of Trustees at Brigham and Women's Hospital and The Boston Foundation. In addition, she served as Chairman of the Board of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Chaired the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee supported by the Jewish Federation of North America.
In 1995, Myra became the first female chair in the history of Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston. She realized that in order to have the greatest impact in her local community, she needed to focus her efforts in conjunction with an organization that actively reached and engaged a large audience of youth for significant amounts of time each day. She supported the Boys & Girls Clubs because they shared her vision and belief in the potential far reaching impact that educating and inspiring youth can have not only on their individual lives but on their communities as a whole. The Boys & Girls Clubs define engaged giving and Myra understood the exponential impact that the clubs have in our society.
Her work for the organization was so meaningful and successful that the by-laws of the organization's government were changed in order to allow for more than a four-year term. She stepped down as chairman in 2002 after six years, but remained very involved and served as one of the co-chairs of the Major Gifts Capital Campaign. She remained an ex-officio member of all committees and continued to serve on the Board of Directors.
In her role of the Boys & Girls Club, Myra worked closely with the United Way of Massachusetts Bay, an organization that she had contributed to since the early 1980s. In her role as chairman of the Boys & Girls Clubs, she saw the power of the United Way organization and its impact on funding numerous grassroots charities that served the youth of our community. That impact was the impetus of her joining the board of directors and ultimately becoming Chair of the United Way of Massachusetts Bay.
Of the many educational institutions that were recipients of her time and largess, she held her alma mater, Brandeis University, the most dear. She joined the Board of Trustees in 1988, and has served continuously since, assuming the role of Vice Chair of the board and a member of the executive committee. In her time on the Brandeis board, she sat on the Honorary Degrees Committee, Development Committee, the Nominating and Governance Committee and most recently became Chair of the Students and Enrollment Committee.
Aside from her family, the greatest passion Myra had in life was the state of Israel. Over the course of her life, she worked tirelessly for Jewish and Israeli-focused philanthropies. The Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston was the platform from which she conducted her work starting in the 1960s, when she chaired the Young Leadership Committee. Since then, she had chaired and served on nearly every Combined Jewish Philanthropies committee. Her work for the Combined Jewish Philanthropies led her to become an international leader in the global philanthropic Jewish world, serving on the Joint Distribution Committee. She has earned numerous awards and honors from organizations throughout the state of Israel. In May 2005, she was conferred with an honorary degree from the University of Haifa in Israel and also received an honorary degree a year later from the Ruppin Academic Center in Israel.
By 2000, Myra's role in the Jewish community and Jewish philanthropic circles had become more global. At that point, Myra was the National Chair for the United Jewish Communities General Assembly. It was the first time that this position was singularly chaired and Myra organized what is to this day considered the most successful annual meeting with over 6,000 people and students from Jewish Federations all across the United States, Canada and Israel.
From an early age, Myra loved to read and had an insatiable desire to learn. She studied history, current events and politics. She also had a deep appreciation for the arts and was a regular at the symphony and museums around the world. While not initially a big fan of sports, she enjoyed playing tennis and golf. In 1994, after the family purchased the Patriots, she attended her first football game, even though Robert had been a season ticket holder since 1971. Soon thereafter, she began to teach herself about the game of football and quickly became an educated and passionate Patriots fan and enjoyed watching football at all levels.
Myra's intellect and candor earned her great respect in the philanthropic community, as she was described by many as the "perfect" chairperson. She was always engaged in the discussions and asked important questions. She spoke with conviction and was direct in her comments, but always made sure that opposing viewpoints were heard. She led by example, immersing herself in many of the day-to-day tasks that come with overseeing nonprofits. She led fundraising efforts, often making the hat-in-hand calls herself, and helped create the strategic business plans for many of the nonprofit agencies with which she was associated. She defined engaged giving, helping and encouraging philanthropists to be more engaged for a greater impact. She described philanthropy as her occupation starting at a time when few did and she worked tirelessly at it in hopes of helping to improve the lives of others.
Myra was honored by dozens of organizations for her lifetime of philanthropic endeavors, including the Camille O. Cosby World of Children Award, presented by the Judge Baker Children's Center in Boston. She will be remembered as one of New England's greatest philanthropists, but more so as a loving wife, mother and grandmother.
Public services for Myra H. Kraft will be on Friday, July 22 at 10:00 a.m. at Temple Emmanuel, located at 385 Ward Street, Newton Centre, MA 02459.
In lieu of flowers, the Kraft family has asked that donations be made in Myra's name at the Myra Kraft Giving Back Scholarship Fund at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston.
Myra Kraft Giving Back Scholarship Fund
50 Congress Street
Boston, MA 02109