Klefos with 1Berkshire President Jonathan Butler in 2016.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The death of Lauri Klefos, executive vice president of 1Berkshire, has shocked a tourism and business community that had already been reluctantly preparing for her retirement this spring.
During her tenure at Berkshire Visitors Bureau, she oversaw the growth of national and social media marketing of the Berkshires, as well as the integration of business, tourism and creative economy strategies, and was instrumental in the consolidation of the county's four economic organizations into the 1Berkshire Strategic Alliance.
"1Berkshire and the Berkshires lost a great one yesterday. Lauri Klefos will forever be an integral part of the Berkshire story, having impacted it in so many positive ways throughout the past decade. To those of us who worked so closely with her — she was a leader, a teacher, a mentor and a friend," 1Berkshire posted on Thursday.
Klefos died unexpectedly Wednesday morning from complications of a procedure. 1Berkshire President and CEO Jonathan Butler said her passing was a "huge shock" to her colleagues, family and friends. He offered his condolences to her family.
"Many of us who have worked with Lauri for awhile had a close relationship with her," he said on Thursday. "She really was the heart and soul of the organization and a friend and mentor to us. It's a real loss."
Klefos arrived in the Berkshires in March 2008 to take over as the Berkshire Visitors Bureau's new president and chief executive officer after a nationwide search.
Prior to that, she was president and CEO of the Arizona Tourism Alliance, director of tourism marketing for Moses Anshell Advertising in Phoenix and New Hampshire's director of the division of travel and tourism development from 1996 to 2004. Originally hired as a research analyst/program specialist in New Hampshire, Klefos was promoted to assistant director of the division of economic development before she became the director of the travel and tourism division.
"I'll bring a unique blend of economic development and tourism marketing to the job and I think it's important for the economy that tourism be in the forefront," she told iBerkshires at the time of her hiring.
She stressed marketing the Berkshires as a high quality — not discount — destination during the economic downturn, aggressively promoted four-season branding and encouraged cross-promotion and partnerships between destinations, hotels, restaurants, businesses and communities. She also instituted the first of the Trendsetter Awards in 2011 to recognize businesses, organizations and individuals for boosting the Berkshires.
Klefos oversaw the relocation of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau to shared quarters with the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce in Pittsfield in 2011 and then help implement the final consolidation of the chamber, bureau, Berkshire Creative and Berkshire Economic Development Corp. in 2016.
"The job has always been to promote the beauty of the Berkshires. While our messages have changed over the years, our goal was always the same: bring people here, have them spend money in our hotels, our restaurants, experience our cultural and recreational attractions, shop in our stores and most importantly come back again and again," Klefos said at the formal merger vote in 2016.
Butler said the office had heard from hundreds of people over the last 24 hours who Klefos had touched personally and professionally over the years.
"You were a strong leader, and you had vision. Your passion for promoting the Berkshires and making our home a thriving place to live and love was contagious," wrote Katherine Lockridge, a member of the 1Berkshire board of directors, on Facebook.
She'd been a presence throughout Butler's professional career, from his time as a legislative aide to his tenure as Adams' town administrator to his role as 1Berkshire president.
"I think her unofficial title was chief tourism expert," he said. She was everywhere and seemed to know everyone and everything about their business.
Staff at 1Berkshire is still dealing with the loss but Butler anticipated the transition plans that had been discussed for her retirement would have to be accelerated.
"You can't replace Lauri Klefos, she was a force," he said. "She had so much she brought to the table."
Calling hours and funeral arrangements can be found here. A toast to Klefos for those who knew her is being held Wednesday, Dec. 12, from at 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Hotel on North.
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