Of all the power couples who rose to prominence during the 1990s—the period when Sarasota became what it is today—my favorite was Stanley and Janet Kane. But then, they were everybody’s favorite. She was stylish, outgoing and an outrageous flirt; he was quiet, kindly and a brilliant businessman. In a way they were total opposites, but for a long time (from 1986 to Janet’s death in 2009) they defined the best of what was going on socially and philanthropically.
Stanley passed away at age 100 last week. He experienced what must have been a wonderful old age. At first he seemed a little lost without Janet, but he soon got a second wind. He played competitive tennis well into his 80s, went to his downtown office several times a week, and watched the institutions he helped with his philanthropy grow into powerhouses. At parties, he remained a beloved figure, seated quietly but surrounded by a bevy of women who doted on him.
His life was the American dream writ large. He and his brother, Daniel, got their start at the family grocery store in the Bronx and over the years built up a food distribution company that eventually had annual sales of $1 billion. When they moved to Sarasota he branched out into real estate. There was hardly a deal put together that didn’t include him in some way. He bought the Hyatt Sarasota (now the Hyatt Regency Sarasota)—and then sold it. He built Kane Plaza. The list goes on and on.
But it was in philanthropy that he made his most important mark, and you can see his imprint from the Sarasota YMCA to arts organizations to animal rescue. It seems that Jean Weidner Goldstein, a glamorous former prima ballerina who started the Sarasota Ballet, talked him into running the board of the Asolo when it was in so much trouble back in 1995. The first thing he did was give the theater $100,000. Then he convinced all his wealthy friends to get on board. Howard Millman, who was the newly hired producing artistic director at the time, credits Stanley with turning the tide. “He saw it as a great business opportunity,” Millman remembers. “He knew he could fix it.”
The Kanes lived exactly the way you want rich people to live. There was a gracious, sophisticated flow to their life. They had a big house on Siesta Key, overlooking a beautiful view of downtown. It was elegant but informal, and the perfect setting for their parties. And their home on Martha’s Vineyard was a local landmark. Actor Carolyn Michel remembers her annual summer visits vividly. “It was like a Noel Coward play. There would be cocktails at the pool house with cracked crab and other delicacies, with Stanley acting as bartender.”
One long-ago night at their annual Oscars party, I asked Stanley the secret to his success in business. “Buy low and sell high,” he told me. At the time I thought that sounded too simple. Now I see the wisdom behind it. As a businessman there was none smarter, as a humanitarian none kinder. Stanley may be gone but the spirit he gave to Sarasota lives on, and hopefully will for years to come.