Friday, August 1, 2008

Loss of a Friend: Elaine College, Busch Entertainment Corporation

IAAPA lost a good friend and partner this week with the passing of Elaine College, vice president of entertainment at Busch Gardens Africa in Tampa, Florida. Elaine has been involved with the association since 2004, including three years as chair of our entertainment committee.

My colleague Eamon Connor worked closely with Elaine in that role, as the two of them cooperated in planning the annual Big E Awards at IAAPA Attractions Expo, which honors the best and brightest in all forms of amusement park entertainment. Eamon described Elaine as "the perfect blend of coach, mentor, and leader." He said she was a tireless recruiter for participation in the association, and several of her fellow entertainment committee members are on that panel because of her.

“She really knew how to get the best out of a team and made everyone feel part of the success of whatever project she was involved in," Eamon told me. "She had a passion about the impact that live entertainment makes in the attractions business, and that was reflected in her sterling work in Big E Awards and other events at IAAPA.”

As is typically too often the case when someone you know dies, I've found out more about Elaine this past week than I ever knew about her before. I would encourage everyone to read this article in today's St. Petersburg Times, which highlights what a true pioneer Elaine was in this industry (she was the first female executive at Busch Gardens Africa). It also includes an excerpt from a piece she wrote in 1994 detailing her terrible battle with lupus.

I first met Elaine during IAAPA Attractions Expo 2004 in Orlando, when I covered a behind-the-scenes tour of Busch Gardens Africa's new stage show, "KaTonga." Only on the job for three weeks, I had very little idea of what in the world I was doing there. Elaine, maybe even sensing how in over my head I felt, treated me kindly that day, answering any questions I had, and we worked together off and on ever since. Whenever I had an entertainment-related question—whether it was BEC-related or not—she was the first person I contacted. It was at her urging that we looked into French park Puy du Fou, which ended up on the cover of the July FUNWORLD, and was one of our best stories of the year so far.

Busch Gardens Africa will hold a memorial for Elaine Aug. 10 (call +1 813/987-5322 for info), which is quite fitting. According to BEC CEO Jim Atchison, as quoted in today's St. Pete Times, Elaine was in the core group of executives who helped transform that park into a well-rounded entertainment destination: "We started to endeavor to make it a whole attraction. Elaine was one of a handful of people who really got that going. It's just amazing and speaks to the significance of her skills."

Elaine College will definitely be missed.