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Friday,  April 19, 2024 12:24 PM 

“She lit up the room”: The travel industry remembers Karen McColl

“She lit up the room”: The travel industry remembers Karen McColl
Karen McColl, seen here in 2019, sadly passed away on Nov. 1. (Pax Global Media/file photo)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

The travel industry has lost a dynamic individual who loved to laugh and share her passion for travel with everyone she met.

Karen McColl, who worked at Princess Cruises for several years, starting as a purser and then going on to becoming a business development manager for both Princess and Cunard, sadly passed away from cancer on November 1, PAX has learned. 

She was 57, and passed away peacefully with her sister by her side at Hospice Peterborough. 

McColl, a welcome fixture at travel conferences and trade shows, loved being on the road and connecting with travel advisors, as she told PAX in a 2019 feature story about her career. 

She started working in tourism immediately after graduating from Fleming College, first doing a placement at the Peterborough Visitors Bureau and then moving on to working in resorts and hotels.

Karen McColl, seen here in Corsica, sailed with Princess Cruises for 16 years. (Karen McColl)

Her journey eventually led her to Western Canada, where she worked at the Ocean Pointe Resort in the Inner Harbour of Victoria, B.C.

“That is when I found out that I could combine my love for travel and get paid for it,” McColl told PAX four years ago.  

In 1998, McColl joined Princess Cruises as a purser and sailed the world for 16 years.

Karen loved being on the road and connecting with travel advisors, as she told PAX in a 2019 feature story about her career. (Supplied)

When she became a BDM for Princess and Cunard, she spent her time supporting travel agents and agencies in her territory of Ontario West.

In the final years of her life, McColl worked as a sales and community relations manager for retirement communities.

“A bright light”

An outpouring of grief and support from members of the Canadian travel industry filled social media yesterday, and some connected with PAX to share their fond memories of McColl.

“Karen was such a wonderful person,” said Lucy Catalanotto, a regional manager at Direct Travel. “I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to know her. I'll always remember the way she made everyone laugh and feel welcome.”

Shannon Smith, senior vice-president of sales, marketing & operations at TravelOnly, said she was “heartbroken” by the news.

As a BDM, McColl regularly attended TravelOnly’s conferences and symposiums at sea.

From left: Shannon Smith, Tanya Johnson, Karen McColl. (Supplied)

“Karen was such a bright light with a genuine and pure heart,” Smith told PAX. “We spent a lot of time together at conferences, laughing until our stomachs hurt. Her positivity was infectious and just seeing her made your day that much better. I am going to miss her dearly.”

Smith said she’ll think of McColl “and laugh” every time she passes through U.S. customs.  

“One time, while on our way to a conference in Las Vegas, Karen asked me to throw a box of Princess mints in my checked luggage as she was only doing carry-on. Not even thinking about it, I said yes, headed to customs, and proceeded to get taken into secondary because I didn't claim the mints as food. It was intense at the time, but a great story. We laughed and laughed, and even joked about it recently in September,” Smith shared. “May she rest in peace.”

Karen and her infamous Princess mints (left); Karen was a welcome fixture at trade shows (right). (Supplied)

“She lit up the room"

Erminia Nigro, general manager at Air Canada Vacations, said that “Karen connected with anyone who would cross her path.”

“She lit up the room everywhere she went and was so loved,” Nigro said. “She quickly became part of our industry family and we had some of the best laughs with her. I swear, I had to always prepare my cheeks before catching up with her at conferences, or getting together outside of work, because they would hurt in such a good way after spending time with her.”

From left: Patricia Di Benedetto, Karen McColl, Kristin Erz, Erminia Nigro, Krista Rothfuchs. (Supplied)

Karen joking around with Erminia Nigro, general manager at Air Canada Vacations. (Supplied)

Maria McColl, Karen’s sister, said that all throughout the pandemic, and beyond, her sister’s motto was “I choose happiness.”

“Every day she made a conscious effort to be positive. And I know some days she didn’t want to be,” she said in a statement. “She always put her best foot forward.”

Celebration of Life on Nov. 12

According to an online obituary, Karen is predeceased by her mother, Patricia. "She is loved and will never be forgotten by her father and stepmother, Keith and Kathy, her brother Keith David and wonderful niece, Meadow," the tribute reads. 

"Karen will be missed forever by her sister Maria and brother-in-law Jeff. She was “second mom” to her nephews Tyler (Julia) and Griffin. She loved them fiercely and they loved her the same in return." 

"She leaves behind many beloved aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends as well as her kitty cat, Albert. She was a lover of good music, good food and a good cup of tea." 

In lieu of flowers, a memorial donation to Hospice Peterborough, or the Peterborough Humane Society would be appreciated. 

The family thanks Dr. Mallory of Hospice Peterborough, "and all of the wonderful staff there, as well as the many amazing health care people we encountered on this short journey." 

"Your kindness will not be forgotten." 

A Celebration of Life will take place on Sunday, November 12, at Celebrations, 35 Lindsay Street North, from 1:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. with words of remembrance at 2:00 p.m.

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