Bernice (Goldberg) Chesler, 69, a widely read travel writer and author — known as the Bed and Breakfast Ambassador because of her influential guidebooks and seminars for innkeepers — died in her Newton home September 4. Mrs. Chesler’s books and appearances helped to popularize the bed-and-breakfast movement in the U.S. as an alternative to the impersonality of hotels and motels. Her copiously researched guidebooks, which presented practical information with enthusiasm and charm, grew from her own interests and zestful approach to living.
A vastly energetic, capable, and creative woman — slender, tall, and graceful — Mrs. Chesler was diagnosed with cancer over a year ago, and chose to keep her illness confidential. She began to inform colleagues and friends just a few weeks ago, when she began to require continual, supplemental oxygen; few had suspected her condition. During the months of her illness, she continued to communicate as she always had, turning conversations toward the lives of others. Known for her verve, enthusiasm, and unflagging kindness, Mrs. Chesler carried on during her difficult year with dignity, courage and élan, staying connected to colleagues and friends.
During her almost 50-year-long professional life, she worked as a researcher and author, and as an advisor to the bed-and-breakfast industry she helped create. She was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the daughter of a Depression-era lawyer, attended Syracuse University, and graduated with a degree in English from Northeastern University in 1955, when it was still unusual for women to earn a degree at Northeastern. “We wore skirts to classes,” she recalled recently. “We had to.”
In what became a lifelong pattern, she met and kept as friends a wide range of people, including colleagues she met as a teenager when she had her own radio program, “Teen Tune Time,” on WBSM in New Bedford. These associations formed an ever-expanding, interactive network that led to many opportunities, and exposed Mrs. Chesler to ideas and trends that stimulated her thinking.
Living as a single woman in a shared Cambridge house during the mid- fifties, she became one of the original employees of WGBH-TV — starting in the public relations department (as one of two staffers) a few weeks before the station began broadcasting what was then called educational television in 1955.
During the late fifties she became, by her own definition, “a stay-at-home mom,” though not in the way most would define the term. As there were no recreational and cultural guidebooks for children and their parents, Mrs. Chesler — a meticulous, almost driven researcher — started to keep notes and files on local activities for her three children. These became the basis for In and Out of Boston with Children, a voluminous, much beloved guidebook that contributed to the continuing sanity of many young parents. The book eventually sold over 200,000 copies.
During the 1970s, Mrs. Chesler returned to WGBH-TV, by then a major force in public television, as publications and research coordinator for the children’s television series ZOOM. She was in her element — gathering information, meeting hordes of people, and conducting interviews for the thousands of short films associated with ZOOM.
During the 1980s, when bed-and-breakfast lodgings were rare in the U.S., she inaugurated a series of guidebooks to these European-style establishments in the U.S. She became more than an author. In anticipating the appeal of B&Bs for travelers who sought distinctive lodgings, often off the beaten track, she helped to establish a new industry. She was a godmother to many nascent B&B hosts, and an impeccable source of information and recommendation for travelers. In much the way Americans learned to cook from Julia Child, they learned to travel the B&B way from Mrs. Chesler. She conducted her research personally, often biking from inn to inn with her husband David, a longtime research engineer in the radiology department of the Massachusetts General Hospital. Over time, they bicycled from B&B to B&B in 14 states and seven countries.
In recent years, she became a pioneer in the field of Internet publication. Bed & Breakfast in New England was the first travel guidebook on the Internet (in 1994), followed by Bernice Chesler’s Bed & Breakfast in the Mid-Atlantic States. Mrs. Chesler also conducted workshops and seminars for innkeepers, authored a “Dear Bernice” column in Bed & Breakfast: Journal for Innkeepers, and contributed to national newspapers and magazines
A few weeks before her death, a colleague asked what she considered the hallmarks of her life. “It’s all been the people,” said Mrs. Chesler, citing mentors and colleagues who had become friends. She attributed her productivity and accomplishments to “happenstance — being in the right place at the right time.” Those who knew her offer another explanation; that her enthusiasm for ideas, adventure, and exploration, and interest in other people, led to her pursuit of writing projects.
She is survived by her husband, David, and her children, Stanford Chesler of Newton; Lisa Winsor of Mattapoisett; Mark Chesler of Oberlin, Ohio, and one grandchild.
All our love goes with you, Bunny.
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