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Philanthropist, businessman, matched kindness with integrity

Stanley Kane built a billion-dollar business before engaging in decades of philanthropy in Sarasota.

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  • | 12:37 p.m. August 31, 2020
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When Betsy Kane-Hartnett and her two sisters were growing up, in suburbs north of New York City, the family always had dinner together at the dining room table. “My dad was the guy who worked seven days a week,” Kane-Hartnett says, “but he never missed dinner.”

What Kane-Hartnett didn’t know until later in life was that her dad, Stanley Kane, after the kids left the table and went to bed, would go back to work. He would spread out his papers all over the dining room table, working usually until midnight.  

That quiet and unending work ethic, along with a kindness that only gave way for a fierce love for family and friends, were some of the enduring characteristics of Stanley Kane’s life. Kane died Aug. 27 — nearly three months after he turned 100.

"He never gave up and he never gave in. He loved a challenge. The harder things became, the stronger he became,” says Kim Githler, founder and CEO of MoneyShow, a Sarasota financial education firm, and a friend and business partner of Kane's for 30 years. “Stanley was very stoic when it came to business dealings, but around his friends and family he was extremely loving, encouraging and supportive."

Sarasota resident and philanthropist Margaret Wise, a friend of Kane’s for many years, adds that one of Kane’s favorite sayings was “You can still be kind and successful.” “(He was what) you wanted your father or grandfather to be,” Wise says. “He was a gentle man.”

Kane’s life essentially had three arcs. The son of Polish and Russian immigrants to America, the Bronx-born Kane dropped out of New York University in 1938 to help his parents run their grocery. It was a small corner store where, as a baby, Stanley would lay in a basket on the counter while his mother worked the cash register. “He was going to be a lawyer,” Kane-Hartnett says. “But he couldn’t live with himself watching his parents struggle.” Later, Kane served in World War II, in the South Pacific.

Kane’s business career came next. He ran an institutional wholesale food distributorship with his brother, Daniel Kane. That company, Kane-Miller Corp, grew to $1 billion in annual sales and was on the Fortune 500, with some 70 subsidiaries, 20 operating groups and 7,500 employees. It wasn’t always a smooth ride: the brothers, according to Kane’s obituary, tried 65 banks before they finally got approved for a loan to start the business.  

Persistence like that was a Kane hallmark. “He always said,” Kane-Hartnett says, “‘if you come up on a door and it’s closed, go find another door.’”

Cliff Roles. Kirby Bywaters, Liza Kane-Hartnett, Stanley Kane, Betsy Kane-Hartnett, Meghan Kane-Hartnett and John Kane-Hartnett celebrated Stanley Kane's 100th birthday in June.
Cliff Roles. Kirby Bywaters, Liza Kane-Hartnett, Stanley Kane, Betsy Kane-Hartnett, Meghan Kane-Hartnett and John Kane-Hartnett celebrated Stanley Kane's 100th birthday in June.

Another lesson Kane imparted to his daughters and others was to live your life, and run your business, always with an eye toward the financial future. “He was very proud of being the King of cash flow,” Kane-Hartnett says.

Later, in Sarasota, Kane invested in real estate and development projects, at one point having a role in more than 100 buildings, including Kane Plaza, a 10-story downtown office building. He also was a lead financier in a deal to buy the Sarasota Hyatt. (Kane’s real estate career had one sour detour. That came in 2008 and several years after, when he sued former attorney and friend David Band for malpractice, negligence and related accusations in millions of dollars of failed deals.)    

Several who knew Kane well talked about he successfully matched being kind with integrity, even amid adversity. "He always did the right thing,” says Githler. “If he made a commitment, you could count on it, and he never kicked anyone when they were down.”

The third arc of Kane’s life was philanthropy. Kane and his wife Janet, who died in 2009, moved to Sarasota in 1984. The couple — Kane was widely known in the Sarasota social scene for doting on Janet — became leading philanthropists, giving frequently to a bevy of arts and social services. One of his most noted philanthropic accomplishments was with the Asolo Repertory Theater, when the prominent arts organization was in financial trouble in the 1990s. Kane not only wrote a check, but also chaired the board and convinced other well-heeled friends to join, too.

Kane’s success, in life and business, didn’t come from being brash or aggressive — although Kane-Hartnett says her dad could be “really tough” and shrewd. Instead, says Tim Hartnett, CEO of New Roc Management, the Sarasota entity that manages the Kane family investment office, Stanley Kane was a quiet, yet, wise, voice. “He was a really good listener and a really good reader of people,” says Hartnett, whose brother is married to Betsy Kane-Hartnett. “He didn’t talk for talking’s sake. But when he talked, you listened.”

Kane worked pretty much up until he died. Some of his favorite things to do in his later years included sitting at his desk either pouring over spreadsheets, watching MSNBC, reading historical novels or FaceTiming with family. He also loved to play scrabble.

Another passion: tennis. Kane played well into his 80s, known on the court for his competitive spirit and wicked drop shot. On the latter, he once passed out with a heart attack on the court, playing at the Longboat Key Club, Kane-Hartnett says. When he came to, with the tending to him, his first question was ‘whose serve is it?”

(Kevin McQuaid and Harry Sayer contributed to this story.) 





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