Photo of Barbara Erickson

Barbara Erickson, who served for eight years as president and CEO of the Trustees of Reservations, died Jan. 15 at age 42. She was credited with making significant improvements at Trustees sites, notably Naumkeag in Stockbridge.

Barbara J. Erickson, the president and CEO of the Trustees of Reservations, which manages 14 properties in Berkshire County, died Jan. 15 after a four-year battle with a rare form of appendix cancer. She was 42.

Originally from Wyoming, Erickson led the country’s oldest land trust since 2012. She was the organization’s fourth president, and first woman, to lead the nonprofit since its founding in 1891.

Erickson, who lived in Newton and Chatham, did not have a direct connection to the Berkshires. But those who knew her locally said she was passionate about her job and helped improve the properties that the Trustees managed in Berkshire County, particularly Naumkeag in Stockbridge.

“She had an infectious enthusiasm for life,” said Joanna Ballantine, of Amherst, who served as vice president of the Trustees’ Western Region during Erickson’s tenure. “She reached out to so many people in the Berkshires and will personally be missed by all of us. Her memory will be a blessing to us all, and her impact and legacy will be lasting.”

Erickson’s tenure was marked by a period of rapid growth that included a $26.2 million Cultural Resources Campaign fundraiser that helped to revitalize the organization’s properties and bolster staffing. Annual visits to the Trustees’ properties doubled to two million, revenue more than doubled to $50.4 million and the nonprofit’s endowment hit $180 million, according to the Boston Globe.

Under Erickson’s leadership, the Trustees’ operating budget also increased from $32 million to $40 million, while membership grew from 42,000 households to 75,000, according to a letter written by current board Chairperson Peter Coffin.

“Naumkeag, being the belle of the West, was a significant investment of the Trustees during that time,” Ballantine said referring to the mid-19th century estate and gardens built by noted New York City lawyer and U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain Joseph Choate. Naumkeag has been managed by the Trustees of Reservations since 1958. “There were incredible improvements in the property and the gardens and overall impact and reach of Naumkeag in the Berkshires.

“One of her passions was engaging more people and engaging the next generation,” Ballantine added. “In particular in the Berkshires, the vision she had for Naumkeag and all of our cultural sites leaves a lasting legacy in our region, as well as across the whole Commonwealth.”

A message posted on Naumkeag’s Facebook page said those involved in the organization were “deeply saddened” by Erickson’s death.

“She will be remembered for her strong vision and aspirations for the organization,” the post read. “Personally, she championed leadership by women in the workplace and especially mothers. She also avidly loved the outdoors and travel. She contemplated the “forever” part of our work deeply and never stopped thinking about how to make the organization better, more sustainable, and secure for a far-off future that she would not see.”

“Sorry for your loss,” wrote Heidi Blackak in one of the 14 comments generated by that post. “I hope in her memory you keep Naumkeag open and flourishing.”

Pittsfield attorney F. Sydney Smithers, who served for six years as board chairperson of the Trustees of Reservations until 2009, left the nonprofit before Erickson arrived. But he said when Erickson became president and CEO, she met with him to get his take on how the board functioned.

“I only met her at Trustees’ events at one place or another,” Smithers said. “But after she was hired she called me and said I’m in Connecticut and would loke to drive up and meet you somewhere in Berkshire County and have a chat,” Smithers said. “So I made a reservation in the meeting room of the Red Lion Inn and she was a delight.

“She seemed anxious to learn and throw herself into the job, which she did,” he said.

“Ambition, tenacity, and audacious thinking defined Barbara’s presidency,” Coffin wrote his letter

Jenny Hansell, the executive director of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council in Pittsfield, was interviewed by Erickson for a position with the Trustees before she became head of the council in 2018.

“From where I sat I deeply admired her leadership,” said Hansell, who did not know Erickson personally. “I don’t know what her personal interest in the Berkshires was, but their properties like Naumkeag and Field Farm had exciting programming over the years that brought people to them.”

“I was deeply saddened to hear about Barbara,” said Paul LeBlanc, the CEO of Zogics in Lenox, who also knew Erickson.

Deb Markowitz, the state director of the Nature Conservancy, said in a statement that her organization was also “deeply saddened” by Erickson’s passing.

“She left a meaningful legacy for all of us who love spending time in the outdoors and will be missed by the Massachusetts conservation community and countless others,” Markowitz said. “Her leadership of the Trustees was inspiring and will ensure the preservation of important landscapes across the state for generations of people and nature to come.

“The Nature Conservancy and the Trustees have been close collaborators for years, working toward our shared goals of protecting landscapes at scale, building a sustainable future, tackling climate change, and more,” she said. “We both believe in the power of nature, for people and for solving some of the most pressing global challenges. I look forward to our continued work together, carrying on Barbara’s vision for nature and conservation.”

Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-281-2755.