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Lasting legacy

Edith and Robert Skinner: Part of a series on the impact of giving to Memorial

Campus and Community

By Lisa Pendergast

The Skinners were a quiet couple, but their generosity knew no bounds.

Married for 64 years, Edith and Robert Skinner spent most of their married life in Pasadena on Newfoundland’s West Coast, where they successfully operated the Lakeland Lodge and Motel, as well as hunting and fishing camps in Labrador.

Generations of Memorial University students and researchers will benefit from the legacy established by the Skinners.

‘If people truly knew’

Robert Skinner (1920-2008) was a Memorial graduate who received his bachelor of arts in education in 1953. He started his career as a teacher and taught in various communities on the Great Northern Peninsula and in Corner Brook.

Mr. Skinner had wide-ranging interests; he was an accomplished pianist, had a passion for painting and flew a sea plane. His wife Edith (1922-2010) worked as a nurse until the couple decided to venture into the tourism industry.

“Robert and Edith were an absolute pleasure to know.” — Jeff Follett

Jeff Follett, the executor of the Skinner’s estate, first met the couple in the fall of 1979 when he was hired as their accountant. As the years went by, the three grew close. He became like the son the Skinners never had.

“Robert and Edith were an absolute pleasure to know,” said Mr. Follett.

“They were quiet and reserved people who kept their generosity confidential. It would be amazing if people truly knew how much they gave away in their lifetime. Every year they anonymously donated things like Christmas hampers, school supplies for children and truckloads of food to local food banks.”

Multifaceted impact

What inspired the Skinners to leave a large part of their estate to Memorial?

According to Mr. Follett, the Skinners felt a close connection to the province and had a deep passion for education. As a teacher, Robert had a natural inclination to help young people.

“There were two things that were always important to Bob, one was wildlife, but the more important one was education,” he said.

“He wanted to provide post-secondary education to the young people of Newfoundland and Labrador, who have great potential but may need some financial support. He found a way to support both of these interests with this gift to Memorial. We put this will together in 1986 or ’87, and the essence of it has not changed since then.”

Remarkable legacy

Today, the impact of their gift reaches all campuses of Memorial and reflects the many interests of the Skinners. Their legacy supports research in aquaculture, wildlife ecology, fish stock assessment and sustainable harvest in the Faculty of Science and at the Marine Institute.

A significant portion of the estate gift has been designated to create research chair funding, two chairs with the Faculty of Science and a fund at the Marine Institute, supporting two additional research chairs.

The particular ability of research chairs to not only strengthen institutional research capacity, but also enhance teaching and create new opportunities for innovation and collaboration was something that appealed to the Skinners. The funding received for these chairs through the Skinner’s gift provides researchers with leverage to receive additional grants that could exponentially increase the impact of the gift — a benefit already being realized by the Marine Institute.

One of the two chairs at the Marine Institute was named in August 2017, with Dr. Noel Cadigan appointed as the first Ocean Choice International Research Chair in Stock Assessment and Sustainable Harvest Advice for Northwest Atlantic Fisheries. The Robert and Edith Skinner Wildlife Management Fund at the Fisheries and Marine Institute is providing $500,000 to support the work of the chair and the hiring of two research scientists in fish stock assessment.

“Establishing this chair at the Marine Institute, with the support of the Skinner gift, will further our leadership role in fisheries research.” — Glenn Blackwood

Ocean Choice International (OCI) and the provincial government, through InnovateNL, are each contributing $500,000. Additional funding will be leveraged against the chair through the Ocean Frontier Institute and MI.

Dr. Cadigan’s goal is to further the current practice in fish stock assessment and focus on sustainability objectives and requirements for Northwest Atlantic fisheries, specifically on the Grand Banks. He will also train a number of master’s and doctoral students, addressing a critical shortage of skilled fishery stock assessment scientists in Canada and around the world.

When announcing Dr. Cadigan’s appointment last August, Glenn Blackwood, vice-president, Memorial University (Marine Institute), noted the strong support for this chair, and the importance of the work being undertaken by Dr. Cadigan.

“Our fish stocks are one of our most valuable natural resources and Dr. Cadigan’s research, with the support of OCI, government and our collaborators, will help ensure we sustain these stocks with more detailed information and analysis for more informed decision-making,” said Mr. Blackwood.

“Establishing this chair at the Marine Institute, with the support of the Skinner gift, will further our leadership role in fisheries research and contribute to our role in advancing unique, interdisciplinary ocean-related research and innovation within the Ocean Frontier Institute.”

The Skinner Estate gift has also created scholarships in nursing and fine arts at Grenfell Campus, a scholarship fund at the Marine Institute and entrance scholarships to support students from the West Coast of the province who wish to attend Memorial University.

Inaugural recipient

Jamie Green, from St. Anthony, N.L., is the inaugural recipient of the Skinner Memorial Scholarship in Nursing.

Jamie Green
Photo: David Howells

She is currently enrolled in the Western Regional School of Nursing. Receiving the Skinner scholarship is helping her to pursue her dreams.

“I finished my second year of the bachelor of nursing program and I hope to someday go to medical school,” she said. “Scholarships are a big help to any student, but especially students like me who intend to pursue multiple degrees.”

The Skinners would be happy to know that their estate is helping students like Ms. Green.

“This will is going to create a lasting legacy in Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Mr. Follett. “Bob and Edith would be so pleased with how Memorial is putting their gift to good use.”

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