PITTSFIELD — Former Pittsfield Mayor Sara Hathaway has approached two Berkshire state legislators about the possibility of erecting a memorial to the late Donald MacGillis, a former Berkshire Eagle editor and avid hiker who died last month while hiking on Mount Katahdin in Maine.
Hathaway has suggested planting a new tree in MacGillis’ memory in the place of a dead, broken tree next to “The Berkshires” sign on the Massachusetts Turnpike in Lee. That sign is located near a footbridge that takes the Appalachian Trail across the interstate highway.
“It occurred to me that a prominently placed new tree, near the Appalachian Trail, could be a nice memorial to the late Don MacGillis, if that is permitted on turnpike property,” Hathaway wrote in an email last week to state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, and state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield.
Also, the Berkshire Natural Resources Council is considering placing a memorial to MacGillis on one of its properties, but the specifics haven’t yet been worked out.
“I want to talk to Ingrid first and see what she feels is right,” said Jenny Hansell, the council’s executive director, referring to MacGillis’ wife.
MacGillis, 74, who lived in Pittsfield, died Oct. 7, after falling 50 feet while hiking on Mount Katahdin’s Knife’s Edge Trail with his nephew, Paul MacGillis. The two had become lost in fog before the accident.
During his 24-year career at The Eagle, MacGillis served as the paper’s executive editor and editorial page editor, then chaired The Eagle’s advisory board that formed in 2016, after the paper came back under local ownership. MacGillis also worked as an editorial writer for The Boston Globe.
Pignatelli has followed up on Hathaway’s request, asking the state Department of Transportation whether planting a new tree in the vicinity of the sign would be feasible.
“I jumped on it right away,” Pignatelli said. “I don’t know how much a tree costs, but I’m not looking for the state to spend anything. I said we will find a way to get donations. I’m just looking for state approval.
“I’m waiting to hear back from them officially,” Pignatelli said. “They’re going to run it up the flagpole in Boston and let me know.”
“I didn’t know Don well, but he was always so good to my dad,” Pignatelli said, referring to his late father, John J. Pignatelli, a former Berkshire County commissioner who served on the Lenox Select Board for many years. John Pignatelli died in March 2019.
“I’ll never forget him coming to my father’s funeral a few years ago,” Pignatelli said, referring to MacGillis. “I think this is something that would be a great gesture.”
Hinds could not be reached for comment.
Hathaway, who served as Pittsfield’s mayor from 2002 to 2004, was serving as an aide in the state Senate when “The Berkshires” sign on the turnpike was unveiled over 20 years ago.
“The sign and landscaping were George Wislocki’s brainchild, twisting the arm of James Kerasiotes, who paid for the whole thing with MassPike funds,” Hathaway said in her email.
Wislocki is a noted local environmentalist who served as executive director of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council for many years. Kerasiotes is a former state secretary of transportation who served as director of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority from 1996 to 2000.
“I believe George and Don were friends,” Hathaway said.
Pignatelli said he also is interested in placing solar-powered floodlights around the turnpike sign so that it can be illuminated.
“I just know coming home from Boston I see that sign and I always say this: ‘The air is fresher and the sky is clearer,’ “ Pignatelli said. “And Don being an outdoorsman, I think that would be a very fitting spot, a tribute to a gentleman who really appreciated the outdoors.”
In her email, Hathaway noted that there is a parking area along Route 20 in Lee that leads to a footpath that would provide visitors with access to the site from the north side of the turnpike.
“From what I understand, the newsboy statue in Great Barrington is the only dedicated statue in the U.S. to honor journalism,” Hathaway wrote. “I think we can afford another memorial to a fine person and his good work.”