PITTSFIELD — Former North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard did not wait long to take on a new challenge.
Bernard, who had decided not to seek a third term as mayor, on Tuesday was named president and CEO of Berkshire United Way in Pittsfield. He will assume his new duties on Jan. 24. His last day as mayor was Dec. 31.
“I’m really excited to begin,” the 51-year-old Bernard said in a telephone interview. “I also know that having taken a little bit of time between the last job and my new job I’ll be able to hit the ground rested and as effective as I can be.”
Born and educated in North Adams, Bernard replaces Candace Winkler, who served two years in the position before stepping down at the end of August to accept a leadership position with a national nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.
United Way board member Laurie Gallagher, a retired former executive at Sabic Innovative Plastics, had been serving as the organization’s interim president and CEO since Winkler’s departure.
“I’d really like to add a note of appreciation to Laurie Gallagher,” Bernard said. “She took on a different set of responsibilities over the past few months and her stewardship has been invaluable. She’s been a great partner for me already.”
Applying for the position had no effect on Bernard’s decision not to seek reelection, said Bernard, who announced last February that he would not seek another two-year term in his North Adams post. Winkler, who is originally from South Carolina, had announced in July that she was stepping down.
“I had already made the decision and was actively considering what to do next when the opportunity came up,” Bernard said. “I would say that there are people connected with the organization that encouraged me to apply.”
When asked if he thought he would take on a new job so quickly after his old one ended, Bernard said, “with the benefit of 10 months of lead time, I certainly hoped that certainly not too far after that I’d be able to step into my new challenge.
“I feel like it was a pretty long two weeks’ notice,” he said.
Berkshire United Way, originally founded in 1924, raises money to support organizations that promote literacy, wellness and other needs across the community.
Board Chair Emeritus Christina Wynn, who co-chaired the search committee, said she believed the board brought in three candidates for final interviews. The committee announced that it was forming in July, but Wynn said the search process began to ramp up in August and September.
“We were fortunate to have a good pool of applicants with varying experiences,” Wynn said, “and we were fortunate to have someone in our own backyard with an incredible amount of knowledge about nonprofit management, donor relations and community work. We found all those things in Tom Bernard.”
Before entering politics, Bernard had an extensive career working in the nonprofit sector at both Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams and Smith College in Northampton.
Following a decade working in Boston and then serving as a freelance writer, the Williams College graduate spent almost a decade at MCLA serving as director of corporate foundation and government relations, executive assistant to the president and director of business affairs. Bernard was serving as director of special projects at Smith College when he was elected mayor in the fall of 2017. Bernard also holds a master’s degree in public administration from Westfield State University.
“Tom’s proven leadership experience and dedication to the community will serve him well as head of Berkshire United Way, said board Chair Michael Stoddard, who is also the executive vice president and chief financial officer at Greylock Federal Credit Union.
“He has worked with multiple stakeholders, is familiar with federal and state granting agencies and processes, and has experience in community and economic development, and strategic planning,” Stoddard said. “His leadership and response to the needs of his constituents during COVID-19 also shows his ability to quickly adapt and address emerging and critical needs. ... The staff and board look forward to having him join the team.”
On Tuesday, Bernard said he viewed the opportunity at Berkshire United Way as a “good fit” based on his previous experiences and for what he wanted to do after serving as mayor.
“One of the things that I appreciated most about the opportunity to serve as mayor of North Adams, and that was certainly important to me and the work that I’ve done in other roles like my job at MCLA, was the ability to be involved in the community, to work with organizations committed to making the community a better place,” Bernard said. “The ability to learn what I learned over the past four years as mayor and to put it to work on those priorities on the work that the United Way does in its mission around making communities stronger.”
Berkshire United Way, along with the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, Northern Berkshire United Way, and Williamstown Community Chest, have collaborated closely on the COVID-19 Response Fund for Berkshire County.
“I think we all recognize ... as we come out of the holidays that we’re in another phase of the pandemic,” Bernard said. “I think what is important in the relief fund is that it was a collaborative project.”
He said the conversations between those organizations will continue “about how we continue to provide a supportive response.”