Long time Barre Historical Society board member and volunteer, Scott Skinner of Middlesex, 76, died on December 15, 2018, from complications from a lung disease he had for a number of years. He was born on May 31, 1942 in northern Pennsylvania, the oldest of four children born to Mary Van Dyne and Osmun Skinner. He spent his early years in Troy, PA where his mother’s family had lived for generations, having moved from Addison County, VT in 1802.
He was a happy child and inherited a strong sense of humor from his mother and his grandfather, Henry Van Dyne. He liked to say one of his goals in life was to make someone laugh every day and he generally thought that he had succeeded.
Scott attended elementary and middle school in the local Troy schools. Summers were spent at nearby Mountain Lake where he became a strong swimmer and a devoted hunter of turtles. Starting at age 12, he worked every summer, including a stint as a dishwasher in a Boy Scout camp, but primarily as a house painter.
He was a very active Boy Scout and reached the rank of Eagle Scout when he was barely 13, at the time the youngest Eagle Scout in Pennsylvania history. Scott like to joke that his greatest scouting skill was ferreting obscure merit badges.
When he was 15, he enrolled at the Lawrenceville School, a boarding school in New Jersey which his grandfather had attended many years before. It was a difficult transition to a very rigorous academic institution, but Scott always referred to that time as his most important educational experience, and in comparison, college was very easy.
Despite the academic demands, which often required him to rise at 5am to study, Scott was active in a variety of sports, playing tight end on two undefeated football teams, and throwing the discus, twice finishing second in the state championship meet. His favorite sport was basketball, but his enthusiasm exceeded his actual ability. Nonetheless, he continued to play recreational basketball at the Rec Center on Barre Street in Montpelier well into his sixties.
In addition to his athletic pursuits, Scott was the editor-in-chief of the school literary magazine, the captain of the chess team, the president of his residential house, and was given the school’s top honor award at his graduation.
In 1960, he received a scholarship to attend a British boarding school, Clifton College, in Bristol, England where he studied English history, learned to play rugby, and set a discus record which still stands.
In 1961, Scott enrolled in Dartmouth College, graduating in three years, with a B.A. in history with high honors. Deferring law school, he joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Nepal teaching English in a very remote village. His love for Nepal led to a close lifelong association with the Nepali people, and he was an active volunteer in the Phulmaya Foundation which built six primary schools in the hills of far eastern Nepal. Throughout his life, he maintained close friendships with his fellow Nepal Peace Corps volunteers, joining them for frequent reunions.
After returning from Nepal, Scott enrolled in Columbia Law School, graduating in 1969. After graduation, he worked in New York City for several years and married Mary Just, a brilliant law student, on March 21, 1970. Scott and Mary moved to Montpelier in April 1972, and Scott became the first executive director of the newly created Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) and Mary worked at Vermont Legal Aid.
At VPIRG, Scott conceived and helped pass legislation that put in place significant hurdles for any future nuclear or coal power plants in Vermont, created the “Tooth Fairy” dental bill which helped low-income Vermont children get badly needed dental care, and protected senior citizens from high-pressure and unnecessary hearing aid sales. Another bill, which did not pass, introduced the concept of “lifeline” electric rates.
In 1975, Scott launched a campaign for the Democratic Party nomination for the U.S. Senate, the first in the nation to center on opposition to nuclear power. It was a grassroots, volunteer campaign in which he won three counties and garnered 47% of the primary vote. Four years later, he ran again, this time winning a hard-fought primary for Vermont Attorney General, but losing in the general election.
In 1980, after practicing law for several years, Scott became executive director of the Vermont affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) where the central issue was the state’s raid and seizure of the children of a religious community in Island Pond.
Scott then joined his friends Pat Biggam and Ron Fox in their Montpelier law practice in what became Biggam, Fox & Skinner until he retired. In retirement, he worked with the Barre Historical Society to renovate and preserve the Old Labor Hall in Barre.
Scott was long rumored to be one of the guiding forces behind a peculiar February event known as the “Hunger Mountain Climb,” at which people climb Mt. Hunger on the third Saturday of February on snowshoes and have a picnic, regardless of weather conditions. The motto of the Climb is “never cancelled, not for snow, ice, extreme cold or televised sports event.” The next event, scheduled for February 16, 2019, will be the 42nd consecutive climb. Scott was always a bit cagey about his alleged involvement, preferring to keep the Climb shrouded in mystery.
Scott and Mary lived in and restored an old farmhouse in Middlesex for over 40 years. From the time they met, it was clear that they belonged together, and at the time of his death, they were nearing their 50th year of marriage. For fifteen years, they maintained a small herd of beef cattle, and they had a flock of exotic chickens until the bears ate them. Scott prided himself on growing exceptional garlic which he shared with friends around the country.
Scott’s great joy was raising his two sons: Justin, now an immigration lawyer at a nonprofit organization in San Francisco, and Wilson, a middle school teacher, also in San Francisco. They remained very close throughout his life, and as both children and adults, took many trips and had many adventures together including trips to Nepal, climbing Kilimanjaro, and hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru.
Scott and Mary delighted in their grandchildren, Noah Grace, age 5, and Cosmo Theodor, age 3. And they loved their sons’ life partners, Wilson’s spouse Angela Madonia and Justin’s fiancee Bronwyn Sing.
From an early age, Scott loved hiking, first in the Sierra Nevada of California and later in Nepal, but mostly in the mountains of Vermont, New Hampshire and New York. With Mary, he climbed the 68 New England peaks over 4,000 feet, and many of the high peaks of the Adirondacks. At age 65, Scott climbed the 48 White Mountain 4,000 footers in a single calendar year.
In Nepal, Scott climbed over 18,000 feet on a number of occasions. His highest hike was to Everest Advance Base Camp in Tibet at 21,150 feet.
In addition to his immediate family, Scott is survived by his sister, Catchy McDowell of Ann Arbor, MI, and his brothers Douglas Skinner of White Oak, PA and Stephen Skinner of Troy, PA.
There will be no funeral or calling hours, but there will be a celebration of life at the Old Labor Hall in Barre on a date to be announced later. Memorial contributions in lieu of flowers can be made to the Barre Historical Society, VPIRG, or the Vermont ACLU. Scott’s ashes will be interred in Middlesex at a family gathering in 2019.