Philanthropist Myra Kraft dies

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Myra Kraft, the wife of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and a hard-working philanthropist dedicated to numerous causes, died Wednesday. She was 68.

She died Wednesday morning after a battle with cancer, the NFL team said in a statement.

"We are all heartbroken," the statement said, adding that the philanthropic community has "suffered a great loss."

Myra Hiatt Kraft was an active and powerful force in her family's foundation and served on the boards of varied community and charitable organizations.

She managed the Robert and Myra Kraft Family Foundation and was president of the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation, which contributes millions of dollars to charities in the United States and Israel.

Every Patriots player has a clause in their contract to take part in 10 charitable events per year, and the Patriots Charitable Foundation seemed to grow each year, helping more in need as times became more challenging.

Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork expressed frustration in a series of messages on Twitter that the lockout was preventing him from offering his support and condolences to the Krafts.

"Sorry guys had to vent myra was a wonderful woman who my wife and I loved dearly," he tweeted.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick released a statement.

"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," he said. "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."

In 1995, Myra Kraft became the first woman to chair the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston, a position she held until 2002. She served the past two years as chair of the board of directors of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley.

"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."

She also served as chairwoman of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies and was on the board of directors of the American Repertory Theatre, Brigham and Women's Hospital, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston, and Brandeis University, from which she graduated in 1964.

"With her great heart and magnificent spirit, she lived her life in service to those who needed her help," said Barry Shrage, president of CJP. "Myra loved the land of Israel and the Israeli people and visited as often as she could."

Brandeis president Frederick M. Lawrence, chosen by a search committee on which she served, said, "She was always reaching out to students, faculty and other trustees and served as a model to all of us in so many ways. Myra was not just a philanthropist, she was a humanitarian in both a personal sense and a community sense."

Robert Kraft is chairman of the NFL's broadcast committee and a member of its labor committee.

During his wife's illness, he has been deeply involved with talks to arrive at a new collective bargaining agreement and end the lockout of NFL players.

"On behalf of all NFL players, I want to offer my deepest sympathies to Bob and the Kraft family," NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith said. "I know how much he loves Myra. We mourn her loss and the entire player family is with heavy hearts today."

Heath Evans, a New Orleans Saints running back who played for the Patriots from 2006 to 2008, tweeted: "What made Myra Kraft special? Strong but Tender-hearted/Proud but Humble/Bold but Soft-Spoken/Extremely blessed but lived to be a Blessing."

She married Robert Kraft in June 1963 while she was a student at Brandeis.

But she was not, at first, an enthusiastic supporter of her husband's attempts to buy the Patriots, who play just 20 miles from where he grew up in Brookline.

He became owner in January 1994, paying $172 million, an NFL record at the time, for a team that was 19-61 the previous five seasons.

"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.'"

Robert Kraft often referred to Myra Kraft as his "sweetheart," the two usually holding hands when together in public. Television images of the two sitting together in the owner's box became a regular of every Patriots broadcast.

Earlier that month, Robert and Myra Kraft announced a $20 million gift to help attract doctors and nurses to Massachusetts community health centers.

Myra Kraft was the daughter of Jacob Hiatt, who grew up in Lithuania and moved to the United States in 1935.

He settled in Worcester, where she was born. Hiatt became president of the E.F. Dodge Paper Box Corp. in Leominster in 1938 and stayed on when it was bought by Whitney Box.

The company is now known as the Rand-Whitney Group, which Robert Kraft bought in 1972. He now serves as its chairman and chief executive officer.

The Krafts have four sons: Jonathan, Daniel, Joshua and David. Jonathan is president of the Patriots. Daniel is president and CEO of International Forest Products, founded in 1972 by his father. Joshua is president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston.

Public services for Myra Kraft will take place Friday at 10 a.m. at Temple Emmanuel in Newton, Mass. 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.

Information from ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss and The Associated Press was used in this report.