In Memoriam: Jeannie Barresi
Carol “Jeannie” Barresi, co-owner of Beyond Boundaries Travel (Colorado Springs, Colorado) and founder of the highly popular and long-running international group tour company HP Fan Trips, has passed away. She was 54. What follows is an account of the legacy that Jeannie affected for Harry Potter fans and an honest recollection of her passion, spirit, and generosity from those who knew her.
Jeannie and her husband Doug Lofland first organized group ski trips in the 1990s to destinations across the US and the world, including Austria and Switzerland, the Greek Islands, Istanbul, New Zealand, and South America for what began as Colorado International Tours. Over 850 groups have been attended by travelers today, according to the website.
After 12 years of operating those packages, the company was renamed Beyond Boundaries Travel in an effort to reflect the innovation that Jeannie and Doug were bringing to group travel. In 2004, they launched the first ever HP Fan Trips tour, a six-day tour of London and York, England.
Jeff Guillaume, founder and webmaster of HPANA, recalls meeting Jeannie at Nimbus 2003, the first Harry Potter fan convention in Orlando, Florida.
I remember my first impression of her was that she was very high energy. She had this idea of uniting Harry Potter fans and having them travel the world together, getting closer. She came to Nimbus with that goal in mind.
Heidi Tandy, co-founder of FictionAlley, also recalls of that day,
She had [HP Fan Trips] as a plan, as a business plan, and she came to promote it. She said, ‘[T]he people you have in [the] fandom would be great to both promote it and be part of the discussions we’re having about the trip and on the trip.’
I think all she needed was to get in touch with the right audience.
Through the collaboration that followed between Jeannie, Jeff, and Heidi, they were able to make HP Fan Trips a reality the very next year.
The first HP Fan Trip began on June 1, 2004. Featuring professional guides, storytellers, and even one real-life dragon *hunter* (NOT slayer), it was attended by an assortment of international strangers from the US, UK, and Malaysia, including me. We bussed from London to York on the first day, stopping for a falconry and herbology lesson at Elizabethan England’s Holdenby House. Once in York, we experienced for the first time a truly English city and were quickly engrossed in its rich history.
On the second day, West Coast Railways’ steam-powered locomotive 5972 Olton Hall (the real Hogwarts Express train used in the Harry Potter films) transported all of us from York to nearby Scarborough and back. We were lectured (Professor Binns-style) in Oxford the following day, at Oxford, on the subject of medieval witch burnings. And on Day 4, we participated in a London-wide scavenger hunt and got to see the brand-new Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban film, with reception gala following, at the Odeon in Leicester Square, where the film premiere had been. A visit to Greenwich’s Royal Navy College awaited us on the fifth day, where USA Team Handball had been commissioned to develop rules for the first-ever game of ground quidditch, which we played.
That first tour had one notable setback. Actor Chris Rankin, who portrayed Percy Weasley in the films, was slated to attend HP Fan Trips in 2004 and interact with its guests on the London leg of the trip. At the last minute, Chris was not permitted to attend by Warner Bros. and could not meet the excited travelers. And while attendees were understandably disappointed, Jeannie Barresi resolved to correct the problem. Months after the trip had ended, Jeannie arranged to transport Chris to multiple destinations across the United States where he did meet and greet with trip guests, a completely satisfying and unexpected treat that fully exemplified Jeannie’s commitment toward providing the best experience for attendees of her tours.
For Toni Gras, four-time attendee of HP Fan Trips and mother of a then-teenaged daughter, Jeannie’s trips offered wholesome and highly memorable experiences in her family’s lives.
My daughter was 15 on that first trip, gosh, and she was just so thrilled to be on the trip, and meeting Chris Rankin months later, a real actor from the films [whom] we kept in touch with afterwards… Jeannie was always going the extra mile, even renting out Edinburgh Castle [on a later trip] and having authentic Scottish bands come and play. The entire experience was magical. You were immersed in the HP world. I remember walking in Edinburgh (Scotland) in our Harry Potter robes and having the locals stop to take pictures, asking us to pose!
In the years that followed, HP Fan Trips prospered. Jeff Guillaume recalls, on the 2008 trip, staying at the Glencoe Inn in the Scottish Highlands where the Harry Potter film cast had stayed during filming of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for the scenes set during the first task of the Triwizard Tournament.
The staff at the inn told us who from the cast had stayed in each room, and we raffled off the rooms to guests, so you could stay in ‘Ron’s room’ or ‘Harry’s room.’ It was just so much fun. The whole purpose of these trips was to collect and usher fans around the actual physical places where Harry Potter was realized.
True to that, the previous year’s trip had seen Jeannie booking the very room (652) of the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland, where J.K. Rowling finished writing the seventh and final Harry Potter book. Though Jeannie’s family was staying in the room, her closeness with trip attendees meant they could peek in and even sit at the room’s desk, contemplating the magic for themselves.
Jeannie’s kindness and correspondence with trip attendees was absolute. Following the 2004 trip, Jeannie recruited Toni Gras to help handle some of the emails received to the HP Fan Trips inbox, and Toni was invited to stay at Jeannie’s own house in Colorado on more than one occasion, an experience shared by many, including Jeff Guillaume and Chris Rankin. Jeff recalls being invited by Jeannie to lend her a hand at a Star Wars celebration in Indianapolis, years later.
She was always planning or plotting or doing something fun, or plotting to do something fun. It was really fun because she just had that spirit of constant innovation and entrepreneurship that is very attractive and addictive to be around.
It was not only through HP Fan Trips that Jeannie would leave a mark on the lives of Harry Potter fans. Heidi Tandy, also long-time board member of Harry Potter Education Fanon, recalls Jeannie’s role in the growth of Harry Potter fan conventions. Following Nimbus in 2003 and the Witching Hour in 2005, HPEF turned its sights toward Las Vegas, Nevada, for its third convention, which was called Lumos.
Jeannie was our advocate. She was fundamental in getting us the hotel and helping us with organization,
says Tandy. 1,300 fans attended the Lumos convention at the JW Marriott in 2006. In 2009, Jeannie again lent her knowledge and professional clout and assisted HPEF in securing the Parc 55 Hotel in San Francisco for HPEF’s sixth convention, Azkatraz.
What is perhaps most important to underscore about Jeannie and her HP Fan Trips is the era in which they were conceived and executed. Heidi Tandy recalls,
In 2002 and 2003,when she was first starting to plan these things, we didn’t have social media. We had [L]ive[J]ournal and blogging; we had forums and chat rooms… but we didn’t have this kind of instantaneous lifestyle. Very few people had laptop computers, and there was still concern whether people you could meet over the Internet were genuine or whether they were axe murderers. What Jeannie created and started was a way for people to get to share their fannishness with other people who, like them, were big fans but in a way that felt like and was (hopefully) as safe as possible.
Jeannie Barresi placed herself right where Harry Potter fans’ passions for the books and films met the physical space. Jeff Guillaume says,
Prior to HP Fan Trips, she was very good at what she did. And she just applied that to the Harry Potter world. She uncovered the real-life roots of the world. You could go […] see why Harry Potter is the way it is. And the guides that she picked… that was a stellar choice that she made for these trips, hiring these really, REALLY good local guides for the tours, and story tellers. Jeannie found these people and vetted them and hired them, and they even say – in testimonials – it’s their favorite trip to be a part of and to work for, every year, when it comes up. The trip slogan, ‘Where magic travels together,’ is exactly right. It was a magical time, and we all brought it with us and took it with us, too.
Adds Heidi Tandy,
These days, when there’s a fandom that has a tie to a real-world thing, somebody’s going to do something with it. But she was the one who did it for Harry. She started a concept, and she did it absolutely magically.
It isn’t difficult to see how immersive experiences for Harry Potter fans by HP Fan Trips and HPEF conventions in the early-to-mid 2000s paved the way for the style of official entertainment seen in Harry’s world today. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter themed areas and Leavesden Studio Tour both offer highly detailed, hands-on worlds for fans to explore, and it was groups like HP Fan Trips that first proved they were marketable. Warner Bros.’ ever-watchful eye on the carefully orchestrated fan trips and fan conventions led eventually to the understanding that hundreds of thousands of Harry Potter fans enjoy today across the world.
The legacy of HP Fan Trips continues past Jeannie’s remarkable adventure. Now celebrating its 14th year, more trips are planned, including a banquet in Glen Eyrie Castle in Colorado next month and an 8-day, 7-night tour of England and Scotland as usual this June. In celebration of the life of Jeannie, her wishes were for donations to be made to Realm of Caring, and a memorial fund has been set up at the address of the Beyond Boundaries Travel offices.
Beyond Boundaries Travel
c/o Jeannie Barresi Memorial Fund
2121 N. Weber St.
Colorado Springs, CO 80907
We will deeply miss Jeannie, and we will never forget her direct contribution toward the forming and exploring of our magical world.