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Barbara Erickson, CEO of Trustees of Reservations since 2012, dies from rare form of cancer

Barbara J. Erickson was the first woman to serve as chief executive of Trustees of Reservations.
Barbara J. Erickson was the first woman to serve as chief executive of Trustees of Reservations.Trustees of Reservations

Barbara J. Erickson, chief executive of Trustees of Reservations, the oldest land trust in the country, has died after a long struggle with a rare form of appendix cancer, the Boston nonprofit said Thursday.

Erickson, who was 42, had led the Trustees since 2012, and was only the fourth person — and first woman — to hold the job since the organization was founded in 1891. She died last Friday surrounded by family at her home in Newton.

Jocelyn Forbush, who has served as acting CEO while Erickson was on medical leave, will continue in the role while the board of directors “determines the next steps,” Peter Coffin, the board’s chair, said in a letter posted on the Trustees’ website.

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“Ambition, tenacity, and audacious thinking defined Barbara’s presidency,” Coffin wrote. “Personally, she championed leadership by women in the workplace and especially mothers.”

Erickson oversaw a period of rapid growth at the preservation- and conservation-focused nonprofit, including a $26.4 million fund-raising campaign to revitalize properties and bolster staffing. During her tenure the Trustees added nine new properties, bringing its portfolio to 120 sites, which include Crane Beach in Ipswich, Appleton Farms in Ipswich and Hamilton, and World’s End in Hingham. Annual visits doubled to 2 million, revenue more than doubled to $50.4 million, and the endowment reached $180 million on Erickson’s watch.

“She was a real determined strategist but also had a real warmth and humor that connected people to the organization and the mission,” Forbush said in an interview.

Forbush said Erickson believed in the importance of integrating artwork with natural landscapes, as evidenced by the merger with the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln in 2019. She also led an effort to find locations for parks along the Boston waterfront. The first tangible result of the Boston Waterfront Initiative will be a park on Massport land in East Boston.

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“Barbara brought this remarkable mix of vision and tenacity and an ability to get things done,” said Jim Canales, president of the Barr Foundation, which has provided significant funding for the waterfront initiative. “She was also just fun to be around. She had a great sense of humor, high energy, great optimism, and a vision.”

Erickson moved the Trustees into new areas of work in a bid to broaden its reputation. The organization became a founding member for the Boston Public Market and ran the education space, the KITCHEN, for the first five years of the market’s existence.

Before taking the top job at the Trustees, Erickson was a senior executive at Save the Children, where she was responsible for fund-raising. Prior to that, she served as chief development officer of Boston-based Earthwatch Institute.

Erickson, a Wyoming native, came to Boston to work at Harvard Medical School in 2001.

“We moved here, plopped down, and I just fell in love with it the moment we arrived,” she told the Globe in 2012. “My husband says my soul was born here. I remember even before knowing a lot of people here, just going to the Cape, the Berkshires, the islands, to many Trustees properties.”

Erickson, who also lived in Chatham, is survived by her husband, Peter Torrebiarte, and their two children, Marcelo and Lucia, and two stepsons, Alejandro and Gabriel. In lieu of flowers, her family asks for contributions to Marcelo’s and Lucia’s college funds. Contributions can be made at https://go.fidelity.com/p5vap or https://go.fidelity.com/vdqtf.

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Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Erickson’s age.


Larry Edelman can be reached at larry.edelman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeNewsEd. Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.