PITTSFIELD — Lauri Klefos had an unmatched passion for a successful Berkshires economy.
Tourism, manufacturing, health care, mom and pop stores — as executive vice president of 1Berkshire, Klefos advocated for all aspects of the business community equally.
“Her passion, positive energy and commitment to Berkshire County were tremendous,” said Beryl Jolly, executive director for the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington. “She had a big smile and a big, big heart.”
Klefos, 62, died Wednesday at Berkshire Medical Center, from complications after emergency surgery related to an undisclosed illness.
Jolly was among many business leaders in the Berkshires who reflected Thursday on Klefos’ legacy of shaping Berkshires tourism and the business community at large over the past decade.
“Her selfless leadership helped set a firm foundation for 1Berkshire as an organization,” said John Bissell, board chairman of 1Berkshire and president and CEO of Greylock Federal Credit Union.
“She combined intellect, creativity and humility in equal measure, making her highly effective in her role and an absolute pleasure to work with.”
Klefos was CEO of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau in 2016, when it officially merged with the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, Berkshire Economic Development Corp. and the Berkshire Creative Economy Council to form 1Berkshire.
“In my mind, she was a co-leader at 1Berkshire. She has her fingerprints all over this place,” said Jonathan Butler, president and CEO of 1Berkshire. He said she was planning to retire in March.
“We’ve been peers from day one,” he told The Eagle. “She was a colleague and mentor … an extremely talented individual.”
Billed as the voice of the business community in the Berkshires, 1Berkshire was the perfect vehicle for Klefos to shine, according to friend and state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield.
“She understood collaboration and how to work with limited resources,” Farley-Bouvier said. “Lauri was also fun, down-to-earth and could find humor in tough times.”
Joe Thompson, director of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, said Klefos made a seamless transition from focusing on tourism to the bigger picture with 1Berkshire.
“She was one of the chief architects of 1Berkshire, and a font of the wholistic, regionalist, thinking behind it,” Thompson stated in an email to The Eagle.
“She was a great collaborator with Mass MoCA, institutionally, and a deft marketer, but on a more personal note, she was a trusted friend.”
Klefos built a career in marketing, based on collaboration, for the past 25 years; first as tourism director for New Hampshire, then as president and CEO of the Arizona Tourism Alliance, a statewide trade group based in Phoenix. The Berkshire Visitors Bureau board hired Klefos in February 2008.
She was no stranger to the Berkshires, having spent many summers in the area with her parents, according to Brian Butterworth, former board chairman of the bureau.
“She understands our needs, she is easy to get along with and will fit in well with folks who are working at BVB now,” Butterworth told The Eagle at the time.
Klefos’ perception of tourism in the Berkshires went beyond the hundreds of millions of dollars’ impact on the county’s economy.
“Tourism doesn’t just grow our economy; it also connects us to people from around the world, bringing different cultures together to learn about each other,” she wrote in an Eagle article published in June 2014. “When visitors come to the Berkshires, they make an enormous impact on all of us who live and work here.”
When Klefos arrived 10 years ago as the county’s chief tourism official, she made an immediate impact as a founding member of the Berkshire Film and Media Collaborative. She felt that the nonprofit could foster film and media opportunities that would be an integral part of the local economy, according to Diane Pearlman, executive director of the collaborative. Pearlman said Klefos was determined to make the new initiative a success.
“When Lauri made up her mind, she was a force to be reckoned with, but you respected her,” she said. “I also felt honored to be her friend. She was incredibly kind.”
As Klefos was approaching retirement, she recently spoke of the politics of her profession as the most challenging part of her career.
“Politics occur in dealing with employees, with bosses, and most definitely with the public,” she wrote in a 1Berkshire profile interview of area women in business. “As an official spokesperson for an organization, I have learned to always address both sides of an issue until I was sure of my audience, and not take push-back personally.”
Dick Lindsay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 413-496-6233.