The Way We Were: Richard G. Skinner, Jr., M.D.

The Way We Were: Richard G. Skinner, Jr., M.D.
Dr. Richard Skinner on a wheelchair hike at Princess Place Preserve in Palm Coast

Dr. Richard G. Skinner, Jr., was born in 1921 and may be 95, but he clearly remembers growing up in his family home at 3585 Pine Street in Avondale. He lived there with his parents, Richard Greene Skinner, Sr., his mother Annie Mae Bryan Skinner, his brother Bryant and late sister Dorothy. His father worked in real estate development as one of the Skinner descendants who owned vast tracts of land in Northeast Florida.

Richard Skinner with his mother, Annie Mae Bryan Skinner

Richard Skinner with his mother, Annie Mae Bryan Skinner

“My parents lived briefly on Walnut Street in Springfield after they married in 1918. Then they bought our Pine Street house with my Uncle Brightman Skinner when it was new and Avondale was just being developed. Brightman was single and did not marry and move out until 1925. I lived there for the first 18 years of my life. I remember Pine Street was covered with pine shavings before they paved it with concrete,” Dr. Skinner said. “My mother was Baptist and we attended Riverside Baptist Church. I attended Fishweir Elementary, John Gorrie and graduated from Lee High School in 1939. I have happy memories of living on Pine Street. My friends and I used to play football all year in the empty white sand lots at the foot of Talbot Avenue on the river. We skated down the hill between St. Johns and Hedrick at breakneck speed and had so many crashes.”

“I always enjoyed driving by the old Pine Street house. One day I noticed it was for sale. My son Richard was finishing his architecture degree and I called to tell him about it…he bought the house and lived there for five or six years, so it came back into the family again for a while,” Skinner said.

Dr. Skinner attended Emory Junior College in Valdosta, Georgia, for two years and Emory University in Atlanta before entering Emory University Medical School. While in medical school he and his fellow medical students were unceremoniously inducted directly into the U.S. Army.

“About 120 of us were loaded onto buses and driven to the U.S. Army Base at Fort McPherson, outside of Atlanta. We were inducted as privates and given military uniforms which we wore every day for the duration of the war,” he said. “They drove us back to the medical school campus and we continued our studies.”

Medical officers at Pratt General Hospital in Coral Gables holding a bachelor party for Dr. Richard Skinner (top, second from left)

Medical officers at Pratt General Hospital in Coral Gables holding a bachelor party for Dr. Richard Skinner (top, second from left)

He completed his pediatric internship at Johns Hopkins and a one-year residency at Baltimore City Hospital (now Mercy Medical Center). Dr. Skinner then spent two years moving wherever the army needed him. He worked at Miami Army Airfield, at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, then to Camp Edwards, MA with the 82nd Airborne Medical Attachment, before returning to Ft. Bragg.

“My military medical service initially sidetracked me from focusing on pediatrics but through all of my training I gained tremendous experience caring for all kinds of illness and infectious diseases. At that time we had patients in iron lungs, patients with polio, diphtheria, whooping cough and tuberculosis because we did not yet have the preventative vaccines,” he said.

Richard G. Skinner, Jr.’s wife was Ann Fields Skinner, originally of Baltimore, Maryland. The late Mrs. Skinner earned a Bachelor of Science degree in bacteriology from the University of Maryland and worked at Walter Reed Hospital and at Johns Hopkins Hospital before entering medical school.

She was a freshman medical student at the University of Maryland School of Medicine when she met her future husband through her friendship with Skinner family members in Baltimore. Mrs. Skinner had grown up in a medical family; her father was a general practitioner in Maryland.

Ann and Richard Skinner, August 18, 1950 wedding day

Ann and Richard Skinner, August 18, 1950 wedding day

The Skinners were married on August 18, 1950 in Baltimore. In 1951 they moved to Jacksonville where Dr. Skinner started his private pediatric practice in St. Nicholas. He was the first board-certified pediatrician in Jacksonville. He recalls that treating post-polio patients was the most difficult.

“We bought a home in St. Nicholas right on Beach Boulevard when there were very few houses there and hardly anything beyond that area. Most of my patients’ families lived around the Assumption Catholic Church,” he recalled. “We used the front rooms and porch of the house for the medical office and the back of the home was where we lived.”

Dr. Skinner specialized as a pediatrician for 35 years and was the founding director of the Children’s Medical Group of Northeast Florida. The other founding partner pediatricians were Dr. James William Walker and Dr. Al Bowers.

In the 1960s Skinner saw the need in his own patients for a program that would identify and tutor children suffering from dyslexia or other learning disorders. He hired mothers of his patients and interested college students to implement a tutoring program. His efforts resulted in the creation of a special education program that was among the first of its kind. The program started with a handful of youngsters and grew to 200 by the 1970s, when he moved his program to Hope Haven. He served as the Chief of Pediatrics for Hope Haven Hospital (which became Nemours Children’s Clinic) for many years.

Throughout his life Dr. Skinner has been a passionate child welfare and wellness advocate. He co-authored published research regarding child welfare and was a mayoral appointee to the Jacksonville Children’s Commission.  He also served on the Steering Committee of the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition.

In 2012 the Nemours Fund for Children’s Health honored Dr. Skinner for lifetime achievement in serving the children of Northeast Florida. His partner and fellow pediatrician Dr. Bowers, who worked with Dr. Skinner for decades, described him as a pioneer and innovator in pediatric care and in the recognition, identification and successful treatment of early childhood learning disorders.

In 2014 the Meninak Club of Jacksonville honored him for his 60 years of continuous service to the Jacksonville community. He served as their president in 1968 and in 1994 received the Gladys Harris Award for outstanding service and contributions to the community. He was appointed to the board of the Jacksonville Community Foundation and served on its board of trustees and has held countless leadership positions and received more professional and civic honors than can be listed.

The Skinners lived in St. Nicholas for approximately 18 years before moving briefly to a home on the Arlington River near Hope Haven Children’s Hospital. They next built a home in Deerwood where they lived until 2007 when they downsized to a Riverside condominium. Mrs. Skinner died in 2011 from breast cancer. The Skinners had been married 61 years at her death and she is deeply missed by her husband and family.

The couple loved to travel, to spend time at the beach or in the woods. They visited all the national parks and most of the U.S. and Europe. Their children remember adventurous family vacations and always learning something new from their dad.

“Our parents loved to travel. We took long road trips in truck campers to Yellowstone and the Tetons, explored New England and rode the rapids down the middle fork of the Salmon River in Idaho,” Dorothy Skinner Palmer said. “Dad loved geology. We quickly learned to run when he picked up a rock because he would talk for hours about its formation and why that was important. He loves technology and was the first in our family to have a cell phone, an Apple computer or an Apple watch.” Palmer, the Skinner’s only daughter, lives in Owensboro, Kentucky and is married to Dr. Nicholas V. Palmer.

Their other two children are Avondale resident and architect Richard G. Skinner, III who is married to Patricia M. (Houlihan) Skinner, and Ortega resident and engineer Allen F. Skinner who is married to Debra Lee Skinner. There are nine grandchildren.

Although Dr. Skinner retired in the 1980s, his legacy in the community continues to be recognized. His children say that hardly a day passes without someone telling them wonderful things their father has done. They are constantly reminded of how much he touched and helped so many during his life and long medical career.

Currently Dr. Skinner enjoys the view from his Riverside condominium and weekday lunch conversations with his sons Richard and Allen. He loves wheelchair hiking to nature preserves or just relaxing outdoors in Memorial Park. For many years he has attended a weekly artists’ gathering held at St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church where he enjoys painting with other amateur artists. He is often invited on outings with longtime physician friends and recently he attended the 90th birthday party of a first cousin in Gainesville.

With the holidays approaching, Dr. Skinner looks forward to the 2016 Skinner Family Thanksgiving celebration and reunion with members of his large, extended family. The Skinners have a family tradition of gathering to give thanks together every November and usually have close to 100 percent attendance with up to 150 family members and a few guests.

“Everyone circles up, we have a prayer, then all the newlyweds and new babies are introduced. We eat, play football, baseball, some go skeet shooting or hunting and it’s a wonderful time,” Dr. Skinner said. He will celebrate his 96th birthday in January 2017.

By Julie K. Garmendia

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