Jean G. "Gae" Elfenbein
LANESBOROUGH Former Lanesborough Selectman, "movie star", and long time Berkshire Eagle reporter Jean Gabrielle "Gae" Elfenbein, 73, died Wednesday at Providence Care Center in Lenox after a protracted battle with cancer.Born in Easton, Pa., Gae was the daughter of Seron Wayne Opdyke and Vivienne De St. Maurice Opdyke. She graduated from Montclair (NJ) High School and spent three years studying at Bethany College in West Virginia before moving back to the New Jersey and New York area.
Before her marriage, Gae worked for the airlines, and traveled extensively. She was fond of Jamaica especially. She also worked as a hat check girl at Sardi's in Manhattan and loved to tell tales about the powerful and famous with whom she interacted there.
She married Laurence Stephen Elfenbein in 1962 and the two ran an antique shop on Bleecker Street in the Village for many years. A large part of their business was providing props and accessories for countless Broadway shows and other theatrical venues.
After their son Stephen was born, and pregnant with their second son, Curtis, Gae and Larry moved to Lanesborough and opened Amber Springs Antiques behind their South Main Street house. They operated Amber Springs for the next 30 years, and had many friends in the antiques business.
After a fire destroyed the building housing Amber Springs, Gae took a job at The Berkshire Eagle, where she started on the social desk before moving into the newsroom, covering, at various times, Lanesborough, Dalton, and much of north county as part of the North Adams bureau and Bureau Chief. It was at The Eagle that she found what she considered to be her true calling.
A gifted reporter, Gae loved nothing more than covering town boards, meeting people and listening to their stories, and investigating wrongs. One story she often spoke about in later years involved helping a family whose young son, Jaime, was dying of cancer. Gae's stories about the family and their dire financial circumstances resulted in the local chapter of Make-a-Wish becoming involved. As a direct result of Gae's stories, Jaime and his family traveled to Tennessee to visit is beloved grandfather. Months later, Gae made a special trip to Boston, on her own time, to see Jaime one more time as he lay dying at Children's Hospital.
While covering the filming of "Before and After", a major feature film starring Liam Neeson that was filmed locally, Gae was selected to portray a member of the grand jury and wrote about her experiences as a "film star" for the paper.
In addition to her work in the antiques business and her work as a reporter, Gae was a longtime, passionate social activist and liberal Democrat. She served on the board of the Neighborhood Health Center until it merged with CHP last year, and on the board of ABC (A Better Chance) in Williamstown. She was also a longtime board member and board president for the Elizabeth Freeman Center. In Lanesborough, she served on the LIFE committee, Finance Committee, Senior Center Building Committee and School Board. She was elected selectman in 2002 and re-elected three years later. She was also Chair of the Lanesborough Democratic Committee and served as a delegate to the MA Democratic Convention.
After leaving the Eagle during its sale to NENI, Inc., after 12 years as a reporter, Gae continued to write and did freelance work for several organizations. In 2004 she wrote the popular book The Insider's Guide to the Berkshires. She continued to revel in adventure, traveling to St. Croix, Arizona, California, and anywhere else she had a reason to go. After spending a winter renting a cottage on Pontoosuc, her later years were filled with schemes for acquiring a lake house of her own.
Gae's oldest son, Stephen, died in 2000 as a result of injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident. To honor his memory, she founded and funded a scholarship at Mt. Greylock Regional High School.
The Different Drummer award went annually to a student who, like Stephen, possessed gifts and passions unlikely to be recognized by more traditional scholarship programs.
Gae is survived by her son Curtis, daughter-in-law, Deb, and her beloved granddaughters Matilda, 5, and Sofia, 1, all of Lanesborough. She was predeceased by her parents, a brother, her husband and son. She had a talent for friendship and is also survived by many grieving friends who will miss her spirit, smarts, compassion and sense of humor.
FUNERAL NOTICE: There will be a memorial service celebrating her life on August 14 at 4 p.m. at the Old Stone Church in Lanesborough. Burial is private at the request of the family. Memorial contributions on behalf of Gae; the family suggests donations to The Elizabeth Freeman Center in care of DEVANNY-CONDRON FUNERAL HOME, which is in charge of the arrangements.
To send condolences to the family, please visit: www.devanny-condron.com