Arthur H. Kern
On November 16, 2022, we lost our beloved Arthur H. Kern at the age of 76. He died at home keenly aware of the love of his family and friends. The son of Beatrice (Rubenfeld) Kern and Irving John Kern, Art grew up in Scarsdale, New York; although if you asked him where he’d grown up, Art would say, “I haven’t yet!” His father ran Dellwood Dairy, which had been founded by Art’s maternal grandfather, Aaron “Harry” Rubenfeld. Art scraped his way out of Yale University with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1968 thanks to his friends and fellow reprobates in the a cappella singing group the Society of Orpheus and Bacchus (SOB).
Beginning his media career at Grey Advertising, Art quickly moved into television, first in ad sales, then managing television stations for Westinghouse, starting in Pittsburgh and moving on to Chicago, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. In 1980, he arrived in San Francisco to run KPIX Channel 5. In 1981, Art became, as he called it, a “reluctant entrepreneur.” He co-founded American Media, a radio-station company with his partner Alan Beck, which they built into a national group of FM and AM stations. Despite an early rough patch, they sold American Media in October 1994 to Clear Channel. Art went on to invest in the internet, culminating with his years on the board of Yahoo. At the close of his media career, he and his wife, Alison, bought their local paper, The Ark Newspaper, which went on to win national and state awards for its coverage.
Art was touched deeply by cancer, having lost his 11-year-old niece Mara to brain cancer. Later both he and his brother John survived prostate cancer. His experience colored his philanthropic involvement. He served on the boards of National Brain Tumor Society, Prostate Cancer Foundation, and University of California at San Francisco Foundation, as well as Environmental Defense Fund and the Tiburon Community Foundation. He also treasured his involvement with the San Francisco Giants and the Young Presidents’ Organization and its later iterations.
While Art was deeply proud of his career in media and philanthropy, what mattered most to him were his relationships. He often turned professional relationships into deep friendships. As someone who knew him professionally said, “I have so much valued your honesty, morality, leadership, and intelligence. Our conversations were always thought-provoking, and occasionally deeply profound.”
Among his friends and family, Art was known for showing up, especially in difficult times. He accumulated nicknames; Buff, Guapo, (Not So) Smart Art, Artski, Sweet Pea, Funcle (a portmanteau of “fun” and “uncle”), Dr. Kernski, GUB (a shortened version of Great Uncle Buff), and Earl of Sandwich were among the many tokens of love. As one friend described him: “Art showed me how generosity with authentic compliments for those you care about deepens relationships. I love his musicality, his incisive intellect, his impatience with foolishness, he determination to get things right, his courage in the face of suffering, (and) his willingness to put his money behind his principles.”
He loved music; it often moved him to tears. Art played piano by ear. During his Yale years, he both sang with the SOBs and was part of a rock band, The Third Section. Art maintained his ties with the SOBs, hosting small summer reunions in Chatham, Mass., and a holiday dinner in San Francisco. He proudly supported the Hyannis Sound, a Cape Cod a capella group. He loved singing with friends around the piano and harmonizing with his wife. Art loved his summers in Chatham at Club 21, first with the Jones, Gill, and Vaut families; later with the Mohlman, Bott, and Gray families; and always with the Kern family.
Art is survived by his wife, Alison T. Gray; his brother Robert M. Kern; his cousin, Judy Kleinberger; his sister-in-law, Valerie Hurley; his niece, Erin Kern-Page, and her wife, Terra Kern-Page; his grand-nephews Grady and Jasper; and Harry the cat. He is also survived by his extended family and friends, many of whom were as close as family. His older brother John Kern died May 8, 2022.
There will be a celebration of his life in early 2023 in the Bay Area and later in the New York area where he will be interred. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a gift to UCSF Adult Hematopoietic Malignancies, Environmental Defense Fund, or your favorite charity.