'I think about her every day'

BY Alex Marvez • October 14, 2011

The tears still come easily for Robert Kraft — and he doesn’t know when they will stop.

Almost three months since his wife’s death, the New England Patriots owner continues to grieve. Asked bluntly Friday if he’s doing OK, Kraft answered, “Nah. To be honest, I think about her every day.”

How couldn’t he?

Reminders of Myra Kraft are all around his office inside Gillette Stadium. A beautiful 8x11 black-and-white photo of Myra in her youth is framed next to the two computer screens behind Robert’s desk. Hanging on the walls are numerous shots of the couple and their four children from 48 years of marriage. In some, Myra’s arm is lovingly draped around Robert’s neck to pull their faces closer together for the camera.

As Robert and I sat together Friday, I remembered how Myra breezily strolled into his office during one of our interviews in 2008. The moment she entered, Robert’s face began to glow. I’m sure it did the same when a 19-year-old Myra boldly asked him to get married while on their first date.

Cancer didn’t just take Myra Kraft at age 68. It also stole the spirit of her husband.

“I always thought she was going to outlive me by 30 years,” said Kraft, wearing a memorial pin with her initials (MHK) on the lapel of his dark blue suit jacket. “She was 98 pounds. She read four books a week. She ate healthy. It was just this horrible disease.”

A watery-eyed Kraft then paused to keep his composure.

“It’s been tough,” he uttered.

The public received a glimpse into his sorrow at the news conference announcing a new NFL labor deal in late July. Indianapolis center Jeff Saturday praised Myra for allowing her husband to remain a key figure in Collective Bargaining Agreement talks even as she was ailing.

“Without him, this deal doesn’t get done,” Saturday said of Kraft, who was considered among the most level-headed parties during four-plus months of contentious negotiations. Saturday also credited Kraft as the man “who helped saved football” before embracing him in a hug.

The scene reflected just how much NFL influence Kraft has come to wield since buying the Patriots in 1994. It also brought attention to the giving nature of his spouse — an attribute already well known to those in the Boston area.

As the Patriots began to ascend under Robert’s watch, so did Myra’s community outreach. Although long involved with benevolent causes, she became chairwoman of two prominent Boston charities and served on the board of at least seven others. She also managed the Robert and Myra Kraft Family Foundation and the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation.

These weren’t honorary positions, either. Ex-Patriots and Hall of Fame linebacker Andre Tippett learned that firsthand in his role as New England’s executive director of community affairs.

“Whenever she would do events, she would always huddle with us later and say, ‘Alright, what can we do to make that better and reach out to more people going forward?’” Tippett said. “That was Myra. If she was going to do non-profit work and be involved, it had to be the very best and do the most for people in need.”

Myra knew that buying the Patriots and keeping the struggling franchise from leaving the region would be a dream-come-true for her husband. Already a prosperous businessman, Robert was such an ardent Pats fan that he would squeeze his family into bench seating for home games at the old Schaefer Stadium in the 1970s. But she was reluctant about the purchase until Robert promised the $172 million financial commitment needed to seal the deal wouldn’t curtail the family’s charitable donations.

Had she still balked, the Patriots as we know them today — with three shining Lombardi Trophies on display in a room adjacent to Kraft’s office — may have never become the NFL’s gold standard for success. The Patriots also have raised $4 million for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston in Myra’s honor since her July death, a figure that the Kraft family plans to match.

Myra’s benevolence is the reason Robert has received thousands of cards and letters from those wanting to share their sympathy or memories. On Thursday night, Robert read condolences from someone the Krafts hosted for Passover Seder more than 30 years ago and hadn’t heard from since.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick — who fondly recalls being greeted by Myra after every Patriots game win or lose — believes those messages are helping Kraft through these tough times. Belichick said the same happened for him when his father Steve, a long-time football scout and coach, died in 2005 at the age of 86.

“I heard from people he coached in the ’50s and ’60s that I didn’t even know about who said, ‘I just want to tell you what an impact your dad had on my life,’” Belichick said. “I know Robert’s gotten thousands of letters like that from people he knows but also people she touched that just wanted to tell him how special she was. I’m sure that gives you strength.”

The Patriots have done the same. Following the club’s fortunes this season has become as much of a diversion for Kraft as a source of pride. The 4-1 Patriots, which host Dallas at 4:15 p.m. Sunday on FOX, are wearing MHK patches on their jerseys.

“As long as they win it’s pretty cool,” Kraft joked as he sniffled.

Myra wasn’t Robert’s only loss in 2011. He and Myra had become friendly with Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis and his wife. Davis died last Saturday at the age of 82.

Of all the road games New England has played this season, Oakland was the only opponent to honor Myra with a pregame moment of silence. The Patriots did the same for Davis before last Sunday’s win against the New York Jets.

Kraft believes he was the last NFL owner to visit with Davis before his passing at an Oct. 2 Patriots-Raiders game in Oakland.

“I gave Al a hug and a kiss when I left,” said Kraft, who praised Davis for his mentoring when first becoming an NFL owner. “I didn’t know that would be (the last time).”

Not that the 70-year-old Kraft needed another painful reminder of how fleeting life can be.

“It just shows you that you have to cherish the people you love and make sure they know that,” Kraft said. “You get a sense or mortality. Every day is special. Don’t take it for granted.

“Fortunately, my wife and I had that. I just wish it would have been longer but the Lord had a different plan.”

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