In Memoriam: Bernie Kraft

Publisher and editor-in-chief Wick Allison pays tribute to our former advertising director, publisher, president—and valued friend.

Bernie Kraft

Bernie Kraft died of cancer in April at the age of 61. This simple statement of cold fact seems impossible to his friends. Not that he died, but that he was 61. Bernie Kraft was a perpetual 39.  With his hair in a Reaganesque sweep and his bright blue eyes glinting with mischief, he could not find a way to look any older.

Bernie Kraft was, at various times, advertising director, publisher, president, and, in our most recent manifestation, the one who drove us to think outside of our boundaries and create new businesses. Bernie came into our lives 28 years ago, in 1975, when this magazine had published five issues, the mayor had sued it, most major advertisers had deserted it, most of the staff had proved itself utterly incapable (who else would work for a start-up magazine?), and the magazine itself was so thin it looked as if we had published it on tissue paper. Bernie in his first interview seemed unperturbed by this news, possibly because at the time he was unemployed, with a mortgage and two children. Our troubles were insignificant, he said, compared to war and poverty and, speaking of disasters, had we heard the one about the priest and the rabbi who decided to switch congregations? When Bernie took command of the stage, he was out to charm his audience into submission, and that day it was like he was wearing a neon sign that read, “Hire me and prosper.” His first day in the office, he recruited a new staff—all female, except for a very lucky John Hall, at a time when the word was “salesman” because that’s all there were. He slapped together a presentation, phoned a few friends from the advertising business, and hit the streets. Two years later, our magazines were so heavy we had complaints about it from postal workers.

Start-ups are notorious for their wear and tear, and D Magazine was no exception. Every now and then, a fracas would break into open warfare, often caused by the age-old battle between editorial and advertising. But no matter how angry anyone got at Bernie, he wouldn’t let it last. It was like he had a secret bet with himself that before he left the room everyone would be smiling. His tactic was to wait until the exact perfect moment to throw out a gentle zinger that would utterly disarm his opponent, and if that had the desired effect of relaxing the tension, he’d follow it up with a cautionary tale, like the one about the stripper and the seagull. I don’t remember the story of the stripper and the seagull, and that’s probably because there wasn’t one. Bernie often had the trick of getting more laughs by introducing a story than he would have by actually telling it.

To be as witty as Bernie requires a bit of edge, and Bernie achieved his by pretending to have a world-weariness that we knew he did not feel. The twinkle in his eye betrayed him.

In later years, we avoided war stories about the early days because our young colleagues are fighting their own wars and making their own stories, but he would now and then—always with exquisite timing—mention a phrase I hadn’t heard in two or three decades, and we’d both quietly laugh the private laugh that comes from having fought your wars, or some of them, together.

He was for all his lightness a serious man. He loved his wife Pat more than any man I ever knew loved a woman, and he loved his daughters even more. He contributed seriously to our city. He worked hard at his profession, and he was very good at it. He cared deeply about his friends and their children. And at the end, he asked forgiveness through the ancient ritual of his faith and gave himself to God.

This magazine exists today because Bernie Kraft needed a job on a day long ago, and for that we offer up this final toast. May God in his mercy bless all job seekers, and may they turn out to love their lives as much as he did, and to add as much to all who meet them. And may our friend Bernie Kraft rest in peace. —Wick Allison


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