A Life of Active Philanthropy

My friend Myra (Hiatt) Kraft ’64, who died on July 21 at age 68, was involved with Brandeis for virtually her entire life.

Her father, Jacob Hiatt, was an early supporter of the university, so Myra first visited Brandeis as a young girl in the early 1950s, and, in fact, she never left. She was accepted into the Class of 1964 and remained involved — as a volunteer, as a member of the board of trustees for 25 years, as an ambassador for the university, as a generous donor, and as a friend and advocate for students — until illness made it impossible for her to participate. Myra’s last appearance in public was at a dinner that she and her husband, Robert, hosted for 200 Brandeis supporters at their home in late March in honor of the inauguration of President Fred Lawrence.

It’s no surprise that Myra connected to Brandeis. The university’s outward-looking social-justice culture resonated with her. She had a deep-seated desire to make the world a better place, a passion for righting injustice and a great interest in young people, all of which were fulfilled by her involvement with Brandeis.

Interreligious understanding was a particular interest of Myra’s. She and Robert not only supported the chair in Christian studies that her father had established at Brandeis and endowed their own chair in Arabic politics, but they also endowed a chair in Jewish studies at Boston College and supported the Jewish studies chair Myra’s father established at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., the city where Myra grew up.

Myra was a devoted Brandeis board member from 1986, including six years as vice chairman, until her death. She served as chair of the development committee for seven years. She was an indefatigable advocate, door opener and connector for the university, always thinking about getting people involved with Brandeis. Once she and her husband purchased the New England Patriots in 1994, she used her newly found public visibility to work even more effectively for the university. Many current Brandeis leaders and donors, including me, were drawn in by Myra.

In my case, Myra didn’t recruit me directly. We got to know each other through various nonprofit activities in our community, and, in her classic fashion, she quietly let the Office of Development at Brandeis know they should reach out to me. Of course, the fact of her involvement and the example she set were significant motivators for me. She had the same effect on many others who became more engaged with Brandeis than they ever thought they would be.

Myra remained deeply connected to her classmates, many of whom became lifelong friends. She chaired many of her Reunions and attended all of them. She hosted Reunion events in her home and at Gillette Stadium. Members of the Class of ’64 often refer to it as “Myra’s class.”

More than anything, though, Myra was devoted to Brandeis students. She and Robert were generous scholarship donors, and she took an active and personal role in the lives of hundreds of students. She was especially interested in helping young people who were in need, and she participated at many of Brandeis’ annual scholarship luncheons. She passionately supported the Transitional Year Program and Posse, both aimed at helping talented but underserved students succeed in college. There was no “no” for Myra when it came to Brandeis students — and she assisted them in ways large and small.

It was a privilege to be Myra’s friend. Not only was she smart, passionate and generous, but she was candid, energetic, impatient with foolishness, loving, deeply loyal and a lot of fun. She was down-to-earth and a hard worker who rolled up her sleeves and got the job done. Staff members with whom she worked at Brandeis will tell you that she always treated them with great respect and that they had deep affection for her.

Myra’s death was a great loss for the Brandeis community, but the ways in which she enriched the institution and all of us who connected with her through it will live on.

— Jonathan Davis ’75

Jonathan Davis is a member of the board of trustees at Brandeis.

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