Friday July 30, 2010

LANESBOROUGH -- Former Berkshire Eagle reporter, Lanesborough Select Board member, and community activist Gae Elfenbein died on Wednesday night following a long battle with cancer. She was 73.

Elfenbein, who worked for The Eagle from 1983 to 1995, died "very peacefully and very quietly" in her sleep at the Providence Care Center in Lenox, where she had resided since Feb. 6.

"In a terrible situation it was the best possible way for her to go," said Elfenbein's son Curtis Asch, who was at his mother's bedside with her longtime friend, John Friend.

"Basically, she'd been chasing cancer around her body since the 1990s," Asch said.

On Thursday, friends and former colleagues remembered Elfenbein as a feisty, funny, inquisitive, and honest woman, who loved people and serving her community.

"It's a real loss," said Elfenbein's friend, Karen Gold. "She was a terrific, special person. She could relate to anyone of any age, any background, and any class."

"She was a person who just had this natural curiosity," said Grier Horner, who served as assistant managing editor of The Eagle during Elfenbein's tenure. "Right up until her death, she wanted to know what was going on. She was very good at finding out."

Elfenbein, who joined The Eagle as a correspondent, covered Lanesborough and several other towns, and also wrote features.

"Some of the most memorable stories written during my time were written by Gae," Horner said. "She had such a way with features, a wonderful way with words and catching detail."

In 1995, Elfenbein was hired to be an extra in the movie "Before and After," which starred Liam Neeson and Meryl Streep. Several scenes for that film were shot in South County.

When the movie opened in February 1996, Elfenbein wrote a first-person account of her film experiences for The Eagle.

"I have concluded that being an extra is a lot like being pregnant," Elfenbein wrote. "The initial excitement is followed by months of waiting, and it's not clear what the outcome will be."

A resident of Lanesborough, Elfenbein held several positions in town government, including two three-year terms on the Select Board between 2002 and 2008. She was a former president of the Elizabeth Freeman Center's board of directors.

"She was very active in town activities and town politics for a long time," said Lanesborough Town Administrator Paul Boudreau. "She was very much of an activist. I think people who are genuinely interested in government are interested in doing the right thing, and have concern for the welfare of others. She was definitely that kind of person."

"It was an honor to serve on the board with her," said former Selectman Douglas Webb. "I'm going to miss her very much."

The former Jean Gabrielle Opdyke was born on Feb. 10, 1937, in Easton, Pa. According to her son, Elfenbein attended Bethany College in West Virginia, then served as an airline stewardess and as both a cigarette and hat check girl at Sardi's, a New York City nightclub, before marrying her late husband. Laurence. The Elfenbeins were married on June 2, 1962.

The couple ran Amber Springs Antiques on Bleecker Street in Manhattan's Greenwich Village before deciding to move the business to Lanesborough in the summer of 1972.

"They had been raising one kid in Manhattan, and mom talked dad into having a second kid," Asch said. "They realized that they couldn't afford a space [in New York]. They'd been up here a couple of times and loved the area."

Elfenbein was predeceased by her husband, and another son, Stephen, who both died in 2000. A memorial mass in Elfenbein's memory will be held at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 14, at the Old Stone Church in Lanesborough. There will be no calling hours. As per her wishes, Elfenbein will be buried next to her son in a private family ceremony.

Boudreau said the town may also hold a ceremony in Elfenbein's honor.

"We just found out about [her death Thursday] morning," he said. "I'm sure we'll do something."

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:,

or (413) 496-6224.