David Skinner ’51

On Thursday, January 26, 2012, David C. Skinner, Sr. died at the age of eighty-two in Indio, California.  For much of his career, he was both educator and entrepreneur, investigating the deepest structures of language and then converting those findings into systems of language acquisition.  His thinking incorporated a wide range of sources, from the musings of Calvin and Hobbes to the knotty truths of Vygotsky; his teachings took him from the boutique learning centers of West Los Angeles to the underserved classrooms of Coachella Valley.

In recent years, Mr. Skinner became increasingly involved in community justice, developing strong ties with the Latino communities in Coachella’s East Valley and working, as his own biography states, “for the betterment of those communities and for special causes within those communities.”  Among his many contributions, he chaired the boards of Family Services of the Desert and Puedo Popular; helped run the successful campaigns of several Latino candidates running for local offices; and served on the boards of Coachella Valley Mexican-American Chamber of Commerce, Martha’s Village and Kitchen (an organization providing food and shelter for the homeless), and the Coachella Valley Education Foundation.  As one of his fellow activists put it, “Everyone came to Dave because they knew he would always help.”

Anyone who came into contact with Dave Skinner soon saw his wit, his big smile, his absolute hunger for knowledge and for life, and the free-roaming, tirelessly acute intellect that fed that hunger.  Many people remember his “perpetual twinkle.”  Mr. Skinner’s love of word play was legendary; he never met a pun, low-born or high-flown, he didn’t relish. Up to two weeks before his death Mr. Skinner was still rocketing through the New York Times crossword puzzles at fifteen- to thirty-minute clips.  He took pride in being a leading-edge thinker.  Edward O. Handy, Jr., a close friend and a classmate at both Milton Academy and Harvard College, recalls a lunch in the late ‘50’s in which Mr. Skinner explained with great excitement and prescience the scope and implications of the information revolution that was just taking shape at the time.  And always there was the iron will that carried him through the death of his twin brother, Rod, in the Korean War and then polio, cancer, an amputation that left him wheelchair-bound, and a variety of other attendant illnesses.  He never complained, never stopped pushing for greater knowledge and truth, and, more often than not, he had a ready quip for whatever situation, no matter how dire, was at hand.  He was, Mr. Handy noted, “the bravest of the brave.” 

Dave Skinner reserved a special place in his heart for Harvard College.  He majored in government and engaged in many aspects of college life, most notably singing for one of the first iterations of the Harvard Krokodiloes.  At his graduation in 1951 Mr. Skinner served as Class Marshall and received an award as the Milton Academy graduate who best embodied Milton’s ideals while at Harvard. 

Mr. Skinner is predeceased by his former wife Elizabeth Heaton Skinner, Radcliffe Class of 1951.  He leaves four children – including Sherrod E. Skinner, III, Harvard Class of 1976 – and six grandchildren.