Dr. Bernard 'Bernie' Kapiloff, surgeon

Dr. Bernard Kapiloff
(Montgomery County Sentinel)

Dr. Bernard "Bernie" Kapiloff, a retired plastic surgeon who had also been the longtime publisher of the Montgomery County Sentinel as well as a civil rights activist and philanthropist, died Oct. 10 from complications of a stroke at Roland Park Place.

The Homeland resident was 95.


"Bernie was fiercely independent, engaged and very bright. He was interested in being out in the community and spoke his mind. He knew the facts," said U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, a friend for more than 40 years. "He formed alliances, and many of them were different, they weren't just political. He always did what was right."

"Dr. Kapiloff was a devoted Zionist. He was very active in Jewish philanthropy and was a devoted Jew. He wanted the Jewish community to act as a Jewish community, and believed in its value of ethics, charity and philanthropy," said Shoshana S. Cardin, former chair of The Associated board and a longtime leader in local and national Jewish organizations.


"Bernie was gregarious, irascible and could go off in a minute if something wasn't right because his heart was always in the right place. He believed in justice," said Mrs. Cardin. "He was truly a remarkable man."

The son of an immigrant Russian father and a homemaker, Bernard Kapiloff was born and raised in New York City, where his parents stressed the value of hard work and charity.

After graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School, Dr. Kapiloff earned a bachelor's degree in 1937 from City College, and a master's degree from the University of Michigan.

He earned his dental degree in 1941 from the University of Maryland School Dentistry, and while practicing dentistry, earned a medical degree in 1945 from Howard University, where he was the only white member of the class, family members said.


"Bernie worked as a dentist at his office in Rockville while putting himself through medical school," said his wife of 51 years, the former Lynn Gerstenfeld, an insurance consultant.

Dr. Kapiloff maintained a long-term relationship with Howard University, where he was an associate professor of surgery from 1950 to 1972. He was an instructor in surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine until 1980.

A plastic surgeon, he began his practice on Eutaw Place and later moved to an office in the 200 block of W. Cold Spring Lane, where he continued practicing until retiring in 1982.

In addition to his private practice, he had been chief of plastic surgery at Sinai Hospital, first at the old hospital at Monument Street and Broadway, and later after it moved to its present location on West Belvedere Avenue in Northwest Baltimore.

He also practiced at what is now Northwest Hospital Center, Good Samaritan Hospital, Bon Secours and at the old Provident Hospital.

"He also had an integrated practice," said his daughter, Miriam Kapiloff of Baltimore. "He also did a lot of free surgery and didn't charge the needy."

"His father had told him to take care of the elderly and the poor for free, and he always accepted whatever the insurance companies paid," said his wife. "If anyone came to him with a sad story, he always tried to help them out."

Dr. Kapiloff was a founding member of the Health Cost Review Commission and was a member of the Maryland State Health Services Cost Review Commission from 1971 to 1977.

A man of indefatigable energy and wide-ranging interests, Dr. Kapiloff and his brother, Dr. Leonard Kapiloff, a dentist, purchased the 107-year-old Montgomery Sentinel newspaper in 1962. They operated out of a former firehouse that had been turned into his brother's dental office.

The brothers, who were outspoken civil rights activists, immediately gained national attention in a case that has often been called Maryland's "To Kill a Mockingbird." Their newspaper's reporting contributed to the reversal of the death penalty for three men who were convicted of the 1961 rape of a 16-year-old white girl.

Two brothers, James and John Giles, and their friend, Joe Johnson, were later exonerated after it was discovered that an accuser had given contradictory testimony and significant evidence had been suppressed by a prosecutor. Finally, a split U.S. Supreme Court decision resulted in freedom for the men.

Dr. Kapiloff remained active in the operation of The Sentinel until suffering a stroke in April.

"Bernie was a very refreshing character to be around. He liked politics and had a great sense of humor," said Brian J. Karem, managing editor of The Sentinel. "He took the work seriously but never himself. He never made that mistake."

Mr. Karem said one of the most impressive things about Dr. Kapiloff was his lifelong stand on civil rights and how he "strove for The Sentinel to be an independent voice and critical, when need be, of both the left and right."

"He believed a newspaper's job was to inform readers as accurately as possible and not slant things. Tell the stories straight and let readers make up their minds," he said. "He never presumed he was more important than his readers. That to me is very refreshing in this day and age."

Dr. Kapiloff had been a longtime supporter of Israel and was the former president of the Maryland Council of the Jewish National Fund. He had served on the boards of The Associated and Israel Bonds and was a supporter of the Talmudical Academy.

In the early 1960s, he and his family moved to a Georgian-style home on North Charles Street at St. Dunstan Road in Homeland.

"Bernie was proud of being a Jew and was one of the first Jewish families to move into that neighborhood, and he made the decision that he wanted people to know that he was Jewish," said Mr. Cardin. "He didn't try to blend in, he was right out there."

He often used Yiddish expressions and he and his wife had hosted many Zionist fundraisers at their home, where they flew an Israeli flag from a front-yard flagpole.

Dr. Kapiloff told The Baltimore Sun in a 1980 article that he and his family had been the objects of repeated anti-Semitic threats.

Beginning in 1977, the family suffered five fire bombings, four of which failed to ignite or caused relatively little damage. But in August 1980, a Molotov cocktail thrown into the home caused more than $100,000 in damage; the Kapiloffs escaped without being injured.

The incident was subsequently investigated by the FBI. "They never found out who did it," said his wife.

In addition to his medical and newspaper career, Dr. Kapiloff and his brother Leonard owned and operated a development company that built projects in Montgomery County and several in Baltimore.

Dr. Kapiloff was also a noted philatelist.

"His work, charity and family were his hobbies," his wife said.


He was a member of Beth Am Synagogue and Beth Tfiloh Congregation.


Services were Thursday at Sol Levinson & Bros.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Dr. Kapiloff is survived by two sons, Mark Kapiloff of Bethesda and Michael Kapiloff of Miami; and two granddaughters.

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