Goodbye My Friend Jeff Guaracino

Jeff Guaracino and I at the Philly Pops Gala in September 2021; Jeff captured that fun video of Thanuja and I dancing, which went viral and inspired me to sign up for a charity dance happening this year.

Dear dear Jeff , Our hearts are broken. Condolences to your family, friends, and there are many. Philly has lost It’s biggest cheerleader, and so many of us have lost a personal cheerleader. No one was more proud of their friends and their accomplishments then you were. I will cherish all the notes you sent me over the years, especially these past years. Life can be soo unfair, but your legacy won’t be forgotten.

I met Jeff through Laura Burkhardt in 2008 (which is when this photo was taken). Bruce Yelk is on the right. He and Jeff were the best of friends, from being roommates, co workers, best friends through out their lives until the last day, they were there for each other.

I was a huge fan of Jeff’s, I’m a wanna be hospitality guy, I followed his career from GPTMC (now Visit Philly), to Atlantic City Alliance, to Welcome America to Executive Director of Visit Philly. Charismatic, self assured, driven who was focused on selling a City, whether it was Atlantic City or Philadelphia.

Even before I was Philly Chit Chat, I was excited about all things Philly tourism, I’d ride the Big Bus a couple times a year, being a tourist in my own City, photographing the City, I even had a line of greeting cards depicting tourist sites (they sold at City Hall, and a few stores). Then when I lived in NYC between 2005-2007, I would see signs promoting Philly, and dreamed of working for the tourism office at some time. (I took both these shots in 2005) I later learned these were campaigns Jeff helped initiate.

When I started PCC, and got to know the players in the tourism industry, Jeff stood out. I followed his career, it was exciting to get to know him over the years. I learned he was behind some of the great campaign initiatives like the ground breaking “Get Your History Straight, and Your Nightlife Gay” campaign years ago made a big impression on me being part of the LGBTQ community.

The 18th annual Equality Forum kicked off with a VIP party at the Hotel Palomar with Jeff and Malcolm Lazin, founder and executive director of Equality Forum (c)

It told me that my community was worth marketing to, that we were welcomed to Philly, it’d be safe to hang out with my friends and tour the City. It was an important campaign. Of course at the time I didn’t know this was a project that Jeff, vice president of communications for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC) and Bruce Yelk, director of gay marketing for GPTMC, now Visit Philly.

Over the years I was able to work with Jeff and Cashman & Associates on projects they were doing together. Notably, when Jeff was recruited to join the newly formed Atlantic City Alliance in 2012 we did a few influencer projects including a memorable all night party bus club hopping activation at places around town. That was so fun. Miss America, that a bucket list for me to do, attending, covering the show and her dip in the ocean photo opp, and then there was the Maroon 5 concert on the beach August 2015. On the right is Jeff and his boyfriend Todd watching the monitor.

Jeff helped create the DoAC campaign, which everyone still refers to today

Jeff Guaracino, Chief Strategy & Communications Officer Atlantic Alliance, Liza Cartmell, President Atlantic Alliance, Paul Zoubek, Esq. at the Qatar Activation 2014

In 2016 Jeff was tapped by newly elected Mayor Jim Kenney to head the Welcome America office, which produced the July 4th events, and concert on the Parkway. It was the first year anyone ever invited me to cover the party, which was so great. I could never get into those invite only, no “press” event events. He trusted that I would get the photos I needed, and ignore any personal, wild and crazy, gotcha moment shots. Which BTW you should know are short live career moments.

Jeff and his friends

It was also Jeff’s idea to expand the party to include sponsor tents, for a price a sponsor could have space for their invited guests. Jeff was all about easing the burden on the City with finances. The funds from this party would go to Welcome America and their efforts. It was a genius idea which is still in place today.

The party and TSOP concert was a great success, despite the rain. Here’s a fun interview with Jeff PHILLYMAG

2016 Jeff introduced Philly to the new City Hall Christmas tree. The ornaments were larger than life, the base was tall and for the first time it listed sponsors on the base. He was able to get additional sponsors for the tree and found a clever way to promote those sponsors.

It was around this time that Jeff started hiring me for projects. For his first tree he had me shoot it from different angles at 2am so there’d be no people near it, from the middle of Market Street (the tree was still located on the West side of City Hall, the following year it moved to the North side.) It wasn’t really as scary as I thought it would be being that late, and the photos came out great. In 2018 I connected my client NRG Energy with Jeff, and every since they’ve been a major sponsor of the tree.

The 2nd year Party on the Parkway (2017) was a great success as well,

but it rain again. Nobody cared, not even Mary J Blige. That was an amazing experience. Pitbull was the next year and he did not disappoint. We should have him back. When Jeff went to Visit Philly, and sponsored a tent at Welcome America, I was still invited to attend, which again, was significant and I really appreciate that opportunity to cover the people attending, as well as enjoying the concert from that vantage, as a guest.

David Wagaman , Jeff Guaracino and Jarrod Williams at the PHS Flower Show 2018

It’s getting close to the time where I have to get ready for Jeff’s funeral. I missed so much, especially his campaigns thanking the FRONT LINE WORKERS during Covid. He was a visionary, kinda, caring, driven, confident.

I’m just going to post a few photos from over the years. If you’re in any of them I’d be happy to send them to you. This is one of the best articles discussing Jeff’s accomplishments. so many of which I missed here, but noted on Social Media as I was really stuck emotionally.

Jeff, moi and David Wagaman circa 2015

Randy Giancaterino wrote this poem for Jeff and sent it to many of his friends yesterday.

The day yields to dark
Since you are out of sight
But your legacy shines through a ray of light
You will watch us from afar
Inspire, teach us what to do
To make your dreams come true
Your soul never will be out of mind or out of heart
Your touch on our lives sets you apart
In the matter of life, your life mattered
We didn’t know your short embrace was inevitable
But your power and strength were irrepressible

And so our friend, son, brother, paisan, our City Champion, its not good night
Your gift of 48 remains our good fortune
Like the tower of William Penn or the glow of your City Hall holiday tree,
The tenor of your voice roams over the city free….
A familiar refrain, urging and Welcoming America to Visit Philadelphia
Even though your fate was 48
Your shadow is forever….
Live your best life in each endeavor

Another Great Jeff interview

That laugh of Oz’s lion will outlive a lifetime
Your joy echoing in the promise of your prime

Worry not. We will carry through your mission
Equality, love of city, friendship, human compassion
Enjoy the fruits of wine, snap the vines that slay
Don’t let the grass grow under your ….seize the day

Condolences to Jeff’s family, friends and fiance Joshua, who told me they had just gotten engaged in December, and were very excited for the future. Good bye my friend….