Bernard Kapiloff, surgeon and newspaper publisher, dies at 95

Montgomery County Sentinel - Bernard, a surgeon who began his career as a dentist, bought the Montgomery County Sentinel with his brother in 1962 and remained its publisher for 50 years.

Bernard Kapiloff, a onetime dentist who later became a plastic surgeon and who, for the past 50 years, was publisher of the weekly Montgomery County Sentinel newspaper, died Oct. 10 at his home in Baltimore of complications from a stroke. He was 95.

His daughter, Mimi Kapiloff, confirmed his death.

Dr. Kapiloff had a multifaceted career that included medicine, teaching, journalism, and real estate development; he also was a staunch supporter of civil rights. In the 1940s, according to his family, he was the only white member of his medical school class at Howard University.

In 1962, Dr. Kapiloff and his older brother, Leonard Kapiloff, bought the Montgomery County Sentinel, which was founded in 1855. They ran the paper from an old firehouse in Rockville and, under the guidance of editor Roger Farquhar, quickly drew national attention as crusaders for civil rights.

In 1961, two African American brothers and a friend were convicted of raping a 16-year-old white girl. A year later, a Maryland appeals court upheld the convictions and death sentences of the brothers, James and John Giles, and their friend, Joseph Johnson.

The Sentinel undertook an extensive investigation of what was often called Maryland’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” case, concluding that the men were wrongly convicted. Their sentences were overturned in 1967 by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Giles brothers were freed from prison, and Johnson was pardoned by Maryland Gov. Spiro T. Agnew.

Dr. Kapiloff and his brother eventually became the publishers of nine weekly newspapers in Maryland. Several major figures in journalism worked at the Montgomery Sentinel early in their careers, including Bob Woodward and Tom Shales of The Washington Post and Maureen Dowd of the New York Times.

Dr. Kapiloff and his wife became the sole publishers of the Sentinel papers in 1983, after Leonard Kapiloff bought Washington Jewish Week. Leonard Kapiloff died in 1993.

Today, the family still owns two Sentinel papers in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Dr. Kapiloff often visited the offices and continued to write editorials until suffering a stroke in April.

“He had a fierce, independent nature,” Brian J. Karem, the Montgomery Sentinel editor, said. “He believed in informing people, giving them the facts and letting them decide what they mean.”

Bernard Kapiloff was born Sept. 23, 1917, in New York City and was a graduate of New York’s City College. He received a master’s degree in pharmacology from the University of Michigan in the 1930s and graduated in 1941 from the University of Maryland School of Dentistry.

He practiced dentistry while attending medical school at Howard University, from which he graduated in 1945.

Dr. Kapiloff taught surgery at Howard from 1950 to 1972 and later at Johns Hopkins University.

With his background in dentistry, Dr. Kapiloff developed a specialty in maxillofacial surgery and often treated babies with cleft palates. Another of his specialties was hand surgery. His daughter said one of his patients was the acclaimed pianist Leon Fleisher, who for years lost the ability to use his right hand.

Dr. Kapiloff’s survivors include his wife of 51 years, Lynn Gerstenfeld Kapiloff of Baltimore; three children, Mark Kapiloff of Washington, Michael Kapiloff of Miami and Mimi Kapiloff of Baltimore; and two granddaughters.

Dr. Kapiloff and his brother also owned a printing company and built housing developments in Maryland.

Dr. Kapiloff was a noted fundraiser for Jewish charities and knew many of the top political and military leaders of Israel. Despite occasional outbursts of anti-semitic opposition — including Molotov cocktails thrown at his house — Dr. Kapiloff proudly flew the Israeli flag in front of house.