The death of Elizabeth Gray Erickson last week has inspired tributes from friends and colleagues who worked with her in the numerous charitable organizations she championed. The 46-year-old mother of three has been praised as a tireless advocate for community service and social change, on a local and international basis.
The body of Ms. Erickson, 46, was found last Thursday afternoon at the edge of a reservoir in the Spruce Run Recreation Area State Park in Clinton Township. She had been missing since early that morning. According to police reports, Ms. Erickson’s husband Jonathan Erickson last saw her at about 11 p.m. on Wednesday night. When he awoke at 5 a.m., she and her car were gone.
Mr. Erickson called police, telling them his wife had recently been suffering from insomnia and depression. A search was launched, and Ms. Erickson’s vehicle was located a few hours later in Spruce Run, blocking two lanes of traffic. Her body was found a few hours later.
“We don’t know why she left the car in that position,” said Larry Ragonese, press director for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which is assisting in the investigation along with the New Jersey State Police and the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office. “There was no sign of any other persons with her. There is no indication of foul play, but it is being investigated.”
A candlelight vigil was held last Thursday night in Palmer Square to remember Ms. Erickson. A memorial service will be held Friday, June 6 at Nassau Presbyterian Church (see accompanying obituary).
Chosen as an honoree for the Princeton YWCA’s “Tribute to Women” in 2011, Ms. Erickson was the subject of a video detailing her many accomplishments. “She was involved in so many incredible organizations С Isles, Kidsbridge, Planned Parenthood, just to name a few,” said Judy Hutton, the YMCA’s chief executive officer. “What struck me, and the reason we honored Liz, was her motto, which was ‘You have to make change in the world, but start with yourself.’ She modeled that. She was a very laid back, caring, compassionate person, so well respected. She touched thousands of lives. I don’t even think she realized how many.”
Ms. Erickson was on the board of VolunteerConnect for nearly 10 years and was most recently an emeritus member. She was instrumental in redirecting the organization’s mission, a few years ago, to embrace skills-based volunteering. “It was really Liz’s forethought,” said Amy Klein, executive director. “She did the research along with another board member. It was a great example of how she wanted to find a way to support all the non-profits.”
Ms. Klein went on to describe Ms. Erickson as “very charity-driven, and all about the people. She wasn’t just talk. She was really hands-on. She was a warm, caring, lovely person. I suppose most people don’t speak ill of people after they have passed, but if you had asked me about Liz before this happened, I would have said the same thing. She was salt of the earth. She wanted to help other people. I’ll miss her wisdom, her leadership, and her guidance. Everybody is saying the same thing. There are just no words to do her justice.”
Another board on which Ms. Erickson served was at McCarter Theatre. “There are no easy words to convey the profound grief and sorrow that so many people feel at this time. The McCarter board and staff are stunned and devastated by the news of her passing,” wrote Brian McDonald, president of the theater’s Board of Trustees, in an email. “I was with some fellow trustees and senior staff members at the theater on Thursday in a meeting that Liz normally attended. When we learned the tragic news of her death, tears flowed and continue to flow.”
Mr. McDonald went on to describe Ms. Erickson as “a truly exceptional individual, trustee, and friend. Her past board experience, extensive knowledge of other non-profit organizations and her passion for the arts made her an ideal trustee …. Implicit in her life of service was the belief that by working together, we can make our communities, large and small, better.”
Speaking by phone, Mr. McDonald added, “Liz was a friend in addition to a colleague. So this is really, really hard.”
Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert also counted Ms. Erickson as a friend. “Last week Princeton lost one of our very best people in Liz Erickson,” she wrote in an email. “Liz was an exceptional person — smart, generous, funny, and totally down to earth. She made a difference in the lives of hundreds of people, including my own. I am grateful for our friendship, and join the rest of the huge community of people who loved her in mourning her passing.”
Among the tributes to Ms. Erickson on Facebook is one from Marty Johnson, founder, president, and chief executive officer of Isles, the non-profit community development organization based in Trenton. “We are saddened by the tragic passing of Liz Erickson, a friend and former trustee of Isles,” he wrote. “Liz was smart, optimistic, energetic, and always wanting to think big. She was always willing to roll up her sleeves and if you wanted to get work done, you wanted her on your side. We mourn and give thanks for her support, friendship, and wisdom that greatly impacted our work and lives. She will be deeply missed.”