Patricia Kraus (then Patricia Bornman) was a straight-A student in her New Jersey high school. It was a sweetly satisfying achievement.
When she was a first-grader in Michigan, back in the 1930s, her teacher had unceremoniously assigned her to the “Green Rug” group, where poor readers were made to sit. Even into her 80s, Patricia would talk of “the humiliation” she felt that day, and how she worked with her mother and a phonics teacher to become a skilled and voracious reader. Until her waning years, she was devouring six or seven books a week.
That early experience stirred in her lifelong desires to encourage others to read and to bounce back from disappointments. Like the one she faced herself, when her sterling high-school record earned her acceptance at both Oberlin College and Antioch College; but she didn’t have the money to go.
Years later, in 1967 — the same year her oldest child started college — Patricia, then 39 years old, enrolled at Union County College, a two-year college in New Jersey. She went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology. After high school, Patricia and her family moved to Fall River, Mass., because of her stepfather’s job. It was there she realized that initially missing out on college may not have been a bad thing.
Marriage to Albert and Involvement in Women's Club for Local Issues
One day, a dapper man named Albert Kraus showed up at a party in the backyard of their duplex. Albert was a journalist in Providence, R.I. Patricia was struck by his passion for his work, and by what she later described as his “handsome arms.”
She loved the way they looked and, soon enough, the way they felt around her.
Six months later, they married. Patricia was 20 years old. She had their first child, Carla, within a year, and three more — Peter, Linda and Laura — by the time she was 30. Patricia and Albert built their first home, delivered in precut components by Sears and Roebuck, on a hill in the coastal town of Tiverton, R. I.
Patricia blossomed there, becoming active with other women in a club that dealt with local issues. On Friday nights, the men and children would join the club women on the beach. They dug for clams, huddled around bonfires. Her friends saw an understated stylishness in Patricia. She had a fashion sense that was honed, daughter Carla says, amid the racks and boxes at Filene’s Basement, where she always seemed to come up with something inexpensive yet “uniquely wonderful.” I
n 1956, Albert became a banking reporter for The New York Times, and the family moved to Cranford, N. J. Now closer to Manhattan, Patricia and Albert fully indulged in the mutual passion they had discovered for the theater, especially musicals.
Patricia loved show tunes like “Oklahoma!” and “Edelweiss.” Yet she awoke and went to bed to classical music, and some nights in the 1960s she played “Monday Monday” by The Mamas & The Papas repeatedly on the living-room stereo. She was, in many respects, a 1950s Betty Crocker wife and mother: efficient, frugal and lovingly attentive.
She also worked outside the home, for the Epilepsy Foundation, as a reading consultant at her own company and as a special education teacher. At one point, she decided to bone up on investing, learning it so well she became a research analyst at a brokerage firm.
After Albert retired in 1987, he and Patricia bought a summer home in the rolling farm country of Franklin, in upstate New York. They cherished the exquisite autumns, the views of the Catskills, and their garden, where they grew rhubarb for her famous pies, baked in batches for the annual Franklin Days celebration. Patricia continued to split time between her New Jersey condo and Franklin after Albert died in 1996.
She played Scrabble with her dear Franklin friend, Sue Avery, and went regularly to the movies with friends in New Jersey. Gradually, it became increasingly hard for her to make it back and forth. Her short-term memory worsened. In 2014, she agreed, reluctantly, to move to St. Pauls, a continuing care center in Chicago, where her son Peter lived.
At St. Pauls, even as she struggled with her own problems, her children noticed how she retained the gentle protectiveness that had characterized her life, how she carefully observed her fellow tenants and alerted nurses to any who seemed in difficulty. In May of 2017, Patricia was moved into hospice care. On May 25, she died in her sleep at the age of 89, hours after Peter had sung snatches of “Oklahoma!” at her bedside.