Brandeis community remembers Myra Kraft

Alumni, faculty and friends recall their friend, mentor and benefactor

From left: Trustee Jonathan Davis '75, Professor Gregory Petsko, Ryan Cheng '11 and Shaina Gilbert '10 all cherished their interactions with Trustee Myra (Hiatt) Kraft '64.

Some 1,500 miles from Brandeis, in the impoverished nation of Haiti, Myra (Hiatt) Kraft '64 is still making a difference in the lives of needy youth.

Mrs. Kraft's commitment to her alma mater and aiding the less fortunate inspired Shaina Gilbert '10, who was the recipient of the Frances Hiatt Memorial Scholarship while a Brandeis student, to return to her  mother's home town and establish a free summer day camp. Mrs. Kraft, a Brandeis trustee and prominent alumna, died of cancer on July 20 at the age of 68.

[See obituary and tributes]

"As a recipient of Mrs. Kraft's scholarship and mentorship, I was able to afford and graduate from a great institution like Brandeis and start a non-profit that currently supports more than 100 of Haiti's neediest youth," Gilbert said.

"I will hold her in my memories as a modern Martin Luther King Jr.," Gilbert said. "On her bus, you can sit anywhere, the fare is whatever you can give, and if your destination is beyond your city limits, she'll encourage you to go because other places beyond your home need you as well. The seed that she planted in me will grow and continue to give fruit in Boston, Haiti and wherever my bus stops next."

Ryan Cheng '11, who received the Myra '64 and Robert Kraft Scholarship to attend Brandeis, grew very close to Mrs. Kraft.

"I was surprised by how humble and down to earth she was," Cheng recalled. "Yet, one could sense that she was a proud woman who never stood on her fame and accomplishments but was always ready for the next step and willing to do more."

According to Cheng, she took a great interest in his academic pursuits and learning about his career aspirations.

"Not only was she encouraging and inspirational, but she made sure that my goals had a purpose and that I acted with passion in whatever I pursued," he said.

Gregory Petsko, the Gyula and Katica Tauber Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacodynamics at Brandeis, served with Mrs. Kraft on the presidential search committee that recommended Fred Lawrence for the university's top job.

"I liked her enormously - there was a lot to like. She was honest, she was dedicated," Petsko said. "She had good insights. We didn't always agree, but the disagreements were handled courteously. When she committed herself to something, she committed herself completely."

While sitting next to Mrs. Kraft at the search committee meetings, he discovered that she had quite a sense of humor. "We would share the kinds of comments that friends share with each other," he said. "She was enormously proud of her family and cared a great deal about Brandeis. I'm really glad I knew her. I think it's a big loss for the Brandeis community and for Boston."

Mrs. Kraft recruited fellow alum Jonathan Davis '75 to become more involved with their alma mater. They served together on the Brandeis Board of Trustees for many years.

"Myra was the ultimate door-opener and connector," said Davis, who heads the board's development committee. "She cared passionately about the university. She grew up with Brandeis in her blood and felt deeply connected to it."

Davis also knew Mrs. Kraft through their involvement with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston. He currently serves as the organization's chair; Mrs. Kraft was the first woman to hold the position.

"Myra was a specialist in responding to people in need, particularly young people," Davis said. "She felt most comfortable being with the beneficiaries of her generosity. Those were the circles in which Myra like to travel. She had her feet very firmly planted on the ground.

"Myra was a diminutive woman who made an enormous impact. She had generosity that, as far as I could tell, had no bounds."

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