“I have written books. And magazine articles. And countless tens of thousands of words for newspapers datelined from Washington and places in this country and the world over. But it all began professionally here — so many years ago — with The Miami News as a sports writer during my senior year at the University of Miami.”
Those were the opening lines of David Kraslow’s final column for Miami’s oldest newspaper, The Miami News, when the daily printed its final edition on Dec. 31, 1988.
Kraslow, who lived in Coral Gables, died early Monday morning. He was 90.
“During my tenure and for decades before that, The Miami News was a vital part of Dade County’s life. That, too, is a fixture in history,” Kraslow’s last column closed.
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The same could be said for the Bronx-born Kraslow, who represented the best of Miami.
As a scribe of the times, Kraslow’s stories in the early 1960s for the Miami Herald as the paper’s Washington correspondent captured South Florida’s own “rich and profound history.” Shaped history, some might say, a happenstance that once gave Kraslow pause.
On the Oct. 22, 1962, night that President Kennedy spoke to the nation about Soviet missiles in Cuba, tourists by the thousands panicked and canceled all travel plans to South Florida — a region then, and now, that depends greatly on tourism.
Salvation came in the form of Kraslow’s question to the president during a nationally televised Nov. 20, 1962, news conference. It was a setup, writer Howard Kleinberg wrote in a Herald column in 1992. Accounts vary as to who arranged for Kraslow’s question, but the president knew the question was coming.
Kraslow asked Kennedy if he was planning to bring his family to Florida for the Christmas holidays. Kennedy said yes and his smiling assurance rejuvenated the tourist industry.
Kleinberg started with the Miami News as a sports writer in 1950. Three years earlier, Kraslow joined the News as a sports writer. Kleinberg became the paper’s editor in 1976, alongside Kraslow, who had risen to publisher in 1977.
On Monday, Kleinberg remembered his friend.
“David was the most loyal person to work for that I’ve ever met in my life. He was extremely loyal and extremely tough. He could pick a story apart like nobody you ever saw and he could also pick a reporter apart. In my career I did a lot of screwing up and David was always behind me.”
Kraslow also gave back to the community. Kraslow was a lifetime member of the University of Miami Board of Trustees. Trustee emeritus Frank Scruggs says of Kraslow: “David was a giant. He cared about the downtrodden, oppressed and needy. Miamians across a broad spectrum have lost a good friend.”
Joe Natoli, a former Herald president and former UM chief financial officer, dealt with Kraslow in both capacities. In the early-1980s, as the Herald’s platemaking manager, Natoli remembers Kraslow complaints about the printing quality of the News, which was run on the same old presses the Herald used at the time at the former One Herald Plaza.
“I tried to take special care of the News to not disappoint Dave. He was the type of person you wanted to please,” Natoli said. Years later, Kraslow was always the first person to arrive at UM board meetings. “When I walked into the room, he would invariably call me over and say, ‘How are you doing? Are you alright?’ Dave was always concerned about other people. He was a great journalist and a brilliant, compassionate leader.”
Kraslow’s presence at those Trustees meetings proved invaluable to the former chairman of the UM board, banking executive Leonard Abess Jr.
David had an impeccable moral compass.
Leonard Abess, UM Trustee, banking executive.
“The problem with term limits are trustees like David. His participation was of tremendous value to the board, the institution and to me personally,” Abess said. “When he spoke it was important to listen. He was passionate. And he spoke from knowledge, experience and most of all from the heart. His counsel to me was priceless. David had an impeccable moral compass.”
Kraslow also served on the Orange Bowl Committee, the Jackson Memorial Hospital Public Health Trust and the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.
“I knew David Kraslow — long before I came to Miami in 1989 — as a first-rate reporter as well as a deeply competitive man running a newspaper. He always cared deeply about the community,” said David Lawrence Jr., the Herald’s former publisher and chair of The Children’s Movement of Florida.
Though Kraslow’s body began to fail him, his mind remained sharp, steeped from years of reporting, editing and writing — he co-authored, with Stuart Loory, “The Secret Search for Peace in Vietnam,” which was published in 1968 and nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in history. The two were colleagues at the Los Angeles Times.
Over the past few years, Kraslow was a daily presence at Magic City Casino, where he played poker and where he had a regular seat: Table 12, seat 5, right across from the dealer.
Kraslow, who used a walker to get to his seat, was a sharp poker player till the end. He was in the casino early enough each day that he reserved his seat by putting a slip of paper with the word “Dave” on the table in front of his seat.
David was a kind and well-respected poker player who was loved by all who knew him. Our poker room was a better place because he was in it. He will be missed.
Scott Savin, chief operating officer of Magic City Casino.
His fellow players at table 12, most of them regulars, took particular pride in a story that ran in the Herald in April 2015 about how, in 1960, Kraslow, then a reporter for the Herald based in Washington, had prepared a story, seven months before the Bay of Pigs, saying the United States was planning to launch a military operation against Cuba. But the paper’s top management killed the story after CIA Director Allen Dulles said publishing it would hurt national security.
“It was a tough call,” Kraslow reminisced in a 2015 Miami Herald story on the invasion’s 54th anniversary. “It’s very hard to run a story when the director of the CIA tells you it will harm national security. I think the Herald was wrong, I think the Herald made a mistake, but it was a mistake borne of good intentions.”
In April 1961, a few days before the Bay of Pigs, The New York Times published a softer version of the story but omitted key facts and buried the story. Kennedy implied he would have preferred Kraslow’s meatier reporting when he told a senior Times editor: “If you had printed more about the operation, you would have saved us from a colossal mistake.”
Kraslow, born April 16, 1926, in the Bronx, mentored all. Calvin Stukes, a poker buddy who works in the construction industry, recalled Kraslow: “He would tell me to never give up, to never stop achieving goals. He told me stories of how he grew up poor. He’d say he never stopped working.’’
David Kraslow was a highly respected community leader who was deeply involved in the life of his alma mater and provided sage counsel to several of my predecessors as a member of the Board of Trustees. He was a vibrant member of the University of Miami family, and we extend our heartfelt condolences to his loved ones and friends.
Julio Frenk, UM president
For Miami Herald columnist Glenn Garvin, Kraslow unknowingly gave him a career.
“I was a freshman in high school and I wanted to be a sportswriter. I was completely obsessed with it. I read an account of David Kraslow covering the Bay of Pigs invasion for the Miami Herald and I thought, ‘Wow, journalism can be a lot more important than reporting the scores of football games’ and that’s when I decided I wanted to be a reporter.”
In 2015, 47 years later, Garvin sat down in the Gables with Kraslow to interview him for a Bay of Pigs anniversary story.
“It was pretty exciting to get to meet a person who played such a huge role in my life,” Garvin said. “He changed everything for me.”
Kraslow is survived by his daughters Ellen Jennings, Karen Spellman and Susan Dandes; grandchildren Laura, Casey, Samantha, Ryan, Spencer and Erin and two great-grandchildren.
Services will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 11, at Mount Nebo Riverside Gordon Memorial Chapel, 5900 SW 77th Ave., Miami. Donations in Kraslow’s name can be made to the University of Miami Child Protection Team, P.O. Box 025388, Miami, Florida, 33102.