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Epilogue | Kenneth Bernhardt

Advertising executive lived dream of retirement, family

TAMPA — Kenneth Bernhardt wasn't a smoker, but he once lit up for a good cause.

It was an antismoking commercial Mr. Bernhardt created for the American Cancer Society.

On camera, Mr. Bernhardt talked about retiring someday, living on the beach and spending time with an extended family. As he disappeared in a cloud of smoke, the commercial ended: "Don't let your dreams go up in smoke."

"He got so sick and dizzy" making the spot, said his daughter, Caroline Bernhardt Ramirez. "He was very proud of that commercial, and we used to scream when it came on TV."

Mr. Bernhardt, who died Monday at 83, worked as an advertising executive on Madison Avenue during the 1960s, roughly the era portrayed in the cable television series Mad Men.

Recent bouts of poor health prevented Mr. Bernhardt from watching the series, but his daughter remembers him dressing as smartly as Don Draper and the show's other characters, though with longer hair.

In New York, Mr. Bernhardt won acclaim for a commercial he did for Vicks Formula 44. He cast the hat-throwing pro wrestler who played Oddjob in the James Bond movie Goldfinger as a man with a hacking cough. With each cough, he smashed something to bits with a karate chop — until he took the medicine.

Tiring of the commute from Long Island to Manhattan, Mr. Bernhardt moved his family to Honolulu, where he worked as creative director for an ad agency there. That's also where he met Jack Painter, who brought him to Tampa to be creative director at Louis Benito Advertising.

"His creative mind and talent was equal to the best in the business," said Joselle Pulgaron, vice president of account management at Falhgren, which took over Benito. "He was the last of a breed. A true gentleman."

Born in Flushing, N.Y., Mr. Bern­hardt served in the Army in World War II. At Alsace-Lorraine, he was shot and left for dead on a French battlefield. After two days, his daughter said, someone tripped over him and found him alive.

After the war, he studied journalism at the University of Missouri, then moved to Paris, where he met his wife, Hadarah. They were married 56 years, raising two daughters and seeing the birth of a grandson. In retirement, he volunteered for the Florida Orchestra, Tampa Museum of Art and the Florida Aquarium.

After several surgeries, Mr. Bernhardt's health declined until his death.

Unlike the man in the cancer society ad, he had lived his dream: retirement and family.

Ultimately, he will even have a place at the beach. His family plans to return to Hawaii to spread his ashes at Diamond Head.


Kenneth Bernhardt

Born: March 19, 1925.

Died: Oct. 27, 2008.

Survivors: wife, Hadarah; sisters, Jeanne Bernhardt and Dorothy Johnson; daughters, Caroline Bernhardt Ramirez and Francesca Bernhardt Beatty; and a grandson, Alex Bernhardt Beatty.

Services: None. "He wouldn't want it," said daughter Caroline Bernhardt Ramirez. "I was lucky I got him to walk down the aisle. He just didn't like ceremonies."

Advertising executive lived dream of retirement, family 10/30/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 31, 2008 10:00pm]
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