Robert Kraft might be the most talked-about owner in the NFL, but his Patriots team made sure to honor his late wife, Myra, during the 2011 season.
But Myra was never just in the background of Robert’s work. Her Jewish roots prompted the couple to promote American football in Israel as well as starting the “Passport to Israel” foundation to help Jewish teens visit the country.
The Krafts have donated more than $100 million to charities focusing on education, athletics, women’s issues and Israel.
Here’s what you need to know about her:
1. Myra Died of Cancer in 2011
Myra died of cancer on July 20, 2011. She was 68.
She died during the NFL lockout, and according to ESPN, Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork turned to Twitter to express frustration over not being able to honor her on the field.
ESPN also said coach Bill Belichick released a statement saying that, despite what she did for him on game day, she did so much more in the community.
Here’s Belichick’s statement, per ESPN:
As much support as her quiet but unmistakable presence provided us in the competitive arena and as much as I personally will miss her warm embraces before and after each game, Myra shined brightest in a much broader arena. In the humanitarian arena, her generosity through philanthropy was admired and appreciated by all. She made a permanent impression on hundreds of coaches, players, staff and our families as a model of grace, strength and giving. Myra’s vision and example will impact and remain very much with our team forever.
Myra was the chair of the board of directors of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. ESPN also had a statement from the president and CEO of the United Way organization on Myra.
Myra led by example through her hands-on commitment to bettering the communities we serve,” Michael Durkin, president and CEO of that United Way chapter, said in a statement. “While Myra will be deeply missed, her legacy of kindness to all will remain a beacon of hope in trying times.
2. Myra Had Deep Jewish Roots
Myra, Robert and Myra’s father, Jacob Hiatt, worked together to try to create a better understanding between Christians and Jews. Working closely with College of the Holy Cross and Brandeis University, the group donated millions of dollars to do things to promote this understanding, like creating wings at the College of the Holy Cross library in memory of Holocaust victims and expanding the library’s literature on the Holocaust.
Hiatt’s parents, Myra’s grandparents, were both killed during the Holocaust, along with three other members of his family. The Hiatts lived in Lithuania at the time, and Jacob was a circuit judge of the Court of Lithuania. In 1935, he migrated to Leominster, Massachusetts. He then became the president of the E.F. Dodge Paper Box Corp. and kept that position when the company merged with 12 others and became the Rand-White Corp. Robert bought the company in 1972. More on Hiatt can be found in his obituary.
Myra’s heritage was reflected in much of her charitable work. In addition to creating an understanding between religions, she, along with Robert, started the “Passport to Israel” program. The program was designed to give financial aid to parents of Jewish teens, allowing the teens to go to Israel to promote Jewish identity and allow them to learn more about the culture.
3. Myra & Robert Promoted American Football in Israel
Myra and Robert played a huge role in the growth of American football in Israel, according to a PatsFans.com story. After a chance meeting with one of the players, the Krafts funded the purchase and restoration of an old soccer field that was converted to a football field. The field was named the Kraft Family Stadium.
In addition to providing a place to play, Myra sponsored women who were looking to start their own league.
While it doesn’t seem like much, the creation of American football allowed Palestinians and Jews a chance to put aside their differences, if only for a few hours. The PatsFans story tells of a postgame embrace between a Palestinian player, Musa Elyyan, and a Jewish player.
“We play as a team and leave our personal stuff on the side. If they can do it, I can too,” said Musa Elayyan, nicknamed “Moose” by his teammates. “Once you’ve played together you create a bond, especially on a successful team.”
4. Myra Held Positions in Many Organizations
ESPN’s article on Myra discusses her positions in various charitable organizations.
In 1995, she became the first woman to chair the Boys & Girls Club of Boston. She held the position until 2002.
For the two years before her death, she was the chair of the board of directors of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley.
She also served as the board of directors of the American Repertory Theatre, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Brandeis University. She graduated from Brandeis in 1964.
She was the chairwoman of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies.
5. Myra & Robert Married in 1963 and Have 4 Sons
Myra and Robert were married for 48 years and had four sons, Jonathan, Daniel, Joshua and David. Jonathan is the president of the Patriots and of the Kraft Group, the holding company that ties together businesses owned by the family.
In the beginning, Myra was less than supportive of her husband’s attempts to buy the Patriots, according to ESPN.
In 1994, Kraft bought the team for a record-breaking $172 million, and told his wife that they would make huge difference in their community if they ran the team the right way, according to ESPN.
“She thought it was nuts,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press last January. “She was afraid it would affect our charitable giving and I said, ‘We will do more for the community if we run this franchise correctly.'”
Every Patriot player has a clause in his contract requiring that he do at least 10 charitable events per year, according to ESPN.
When the Patriots won the 2012 AFC Championship game and secured their spot in the Super Bowl, Kraft made a gesture to his “sweetheart” instead of talking about her, according to a Jewish Journal article.
After punching their ticket to the Super Bowl, the Patriots with a 23-20 win over the Ravens; Mr. Kraft took to the podium set up in Gillette Stadium to receive the Lamar Hunt Trophy that is presented to the American Football Conference (AFC) Champion. Upon receiving the trophy, Kraft took a moment to kiss his fingers and point to the sky in tribute to Myra. He said, “It was so I wouldn’t have to speak and start crying on national television.” Later in a post-game interview, Kraft said, “[There were] forces at work that’s beyond anything we can understand.” He added, “There are so many little things that happen during the year, when you think about it, just the little things that can go the other way. I’m so excited that we’re going to the big game. I still pinch myself thinking about it and I think of my sweetheart.”