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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Myra Kraft ’64, Brandeis board member and philanthropist, dead at 68

Published: July 21, 2011
Section: Front Page

Myra Hiatt Kraft ’64, who helped govern the university for 25 years as a trustee and became, of its alumni, one of the most influential as a philanthropist in Massachusetts and around the world, died of cancer early Wednesday. She was 68.

Kraft’s association with Brandeis endured and even grew long after she earned her B.A. in history. Like her father, Jacob Hiatt of Hiatt Career Center fame and a powerbroker in the university’s earliest years, she and her husband, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, became heavily involved with the university’s development. The couple has been among the university’s most generous benefactors, endowing scholarships for deserving students and frequently meeting with administration officials about both fundraising and international outreach, particularly with university-Israel connections.

On the board of trustees, of which she at one time served as vice chairwoman, Kraft led the Students and Enrollment and Development committees and also served on the powerful Executive and Governing panels. She joined Brandeis’ governing body in 1986 after eight years as a university fellow.

In a life of service that extended beyond just being a checkbook for some of the state’s biggest charities, to which Kraft and her husband have donated more than $100 million, she led some of its most prominent charities, including the famous Boys and Girls Club of Boston, which even waived their term limits so she could continue running it, and the area Combined Jewish Philanthropies. Kraft also served on the boards of such famous causes as the United Way of Greater Boston, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the American Repertory Theater.

Kraft is credited by The Boston Globe and others as not merely a generous woman of wealth but as someone who made the business of not making any money for oneself a very personal endeavor. The International Herald Tribune has praised her for “modeling a new form of engaged giving that is transforming the relationship between philanthropist and philanthropy.” In 2003, Boston Magazine named her near the very top of the “most powerful women” in the greater area, a list that otherwise included politicians of the highest echelon and the investments manager at the giant Fidelity.

Her legacy at Brandeis lives on through the Jacob Hiatt Memorial Fund, the Myra and Robert Kraft Israel Initiative, and not one but two endowed chairs by the family at the university, one in Christianity and Christian studies and another in Arab politics.

In a statement to The Globe, university President Fred Lawrence called her a “true Brandeisian” who was “always reaching out to students, faculty and other trustees and served as a model to all of us in so many ways.” In a special interview with The Hoot the president credited her involvement with the presidential search committee: “She was not only very important in bringing me to Brandeis, but she and her family were very important in welcoming me to Brandeis—they hosted my inaugural reception dinner and I believe it was among the last public events of that nature she attended.”

Board of trustees chairman Mal Sherman, who served with Kraft during her time as vice chair and who is a longtime personal friend, called her “an outstanding member of our board, of our community, and one who will be sorely missed.”

Kraft was “highly respected for her passion, for her knowledge, and someone who was admired by all of us: She always asked the right questions,” Sherman said. He also added that as chair of the Students and Enrollment Committee, one he called the most important the university administration possessed, she “always listened to student concerns carefully” and was heavily involved with the university’s effort to put students first.

Public funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. on Friday at Temple Emanuel, 385 Ward St., in Newton.

Instead of sending flowers, the family requested that donations be made in Myra Kraft’s name to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston.