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Patricia Skinner: A life of faith and family

East Meadow’s ‘matriarch’ dies at 79

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Patricia Skinner was in and out of the hospital over the past five months, but made sure she was available on Sept. 7 to attend her friend Fran Grusell’s 80th birthday party.

“What I could tell you about her is that I have never met a more caring, generous, sensitive person in my life,” Grusell said of Skinner. “She always had a smile on her face, no matter what hell she was going through. And she went through hell.”

Grusell recalled the awe and shock the night of the party, when Skinner came into Alicia’s Restaurant, in East Meadow, in a wheelchair, and greeted friends with the help of one of Grusell’s grandsons.

“She was so thrilled that he was wheeling her around and showing her the place,” Grusell said. “She had her last big meal there too — surf and turf. It was her last hurrah.”

Skinner died on Sept. 15, after 26 years of enduring a number of related medical conditions. She was 79.

Her husband, Walter, described her as an upbeat and optimistic social butterfly. “With all the problems she had, she would still invite people here and they would tell her about their problems,” he said of his East Meadow home, where he spoke with the Herald. “And she would listen.”

Patricia Skinner was born on Feb. 15, 1940, in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen. She and Walter were married on April 23, 1960, and they lived in the Bronx for five years before moving to East Meadow “by accident,” Walter said with a laugh. They had planned to move to Smithtown, but when they stopped in East Meadow one day to visit a friend, Patricia saw a house for sale and fell in love with it.

Walter recalled hating its dark green carpeting and dark brown walls, and the fact there were no bedrooms on the second floor.

He still lives in the house.

“She knew it was where she wanted to live,” he said, adding that it was closer to Manhattan, where they both worked.

After she graduated from Cathedral High School in Queens in 1957, Patricia began working in the accounting department of U.S. Rubber Company, now known as Uniroyal, in Rockefeller Center, where she met Walter, who was also an accountant.

They attended 8 a.m. Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral together before work. One evening, Walter was going to a concert with friends and needed a date, so he took Patricia, “and we had a ball,” he recounted. “That’s what started it.”

Patricia worked at U.S. Rubber for a year before taking on another accounting role at 20th Century Fox, where she was in charge of the payroll for the company’s celebrity clients. She and Walter were married in 1960, and had their first child, Lynne, in 1961. Over the next five years, they had five more children, and Patricia became a full-time “domestic engineer,” Walter said.

“We used to entertain our friends by cutting each other down,” he said with a chuckle. “We wouldn’t hesitate to joke at each other’s expense . . . she could take a joke, and she could give one right back.”

In 1975, the couple teamed up to run a youth program at St. Raphael’s Roman Catholic Church in East Meadow, an endeavor that lasted eight years. Also in 1975, Patricia went back to work with her husband at A&C Pest Management in East Meadow. Neil O’Conner had founded the company in 1969, and Walter joined him two years later. The two, both East Meadow residents and members of the New York City Fire Department, were close friends. O’Conner left the business in 1973, and two years later Patricia joined it to run the office.

In 1988, she was diagnosed with osteoarthritis and lost most of her ability to walk. The couple retired from A&C Pest Management in 1994, and sold the company to their son Jim and his wife, MaryAnne.

Patricia spent the remainder of her life smiling, despite numerous surgeries, praying before taking her morning prescriptions. “She was a very blessed woman,” said Kathy Maggio, who met Skinner after moving to East Meadow in 1972. “She was a Catholic who lived her faith, and made you a better person for knowing that.”

Maggio recalled a routine Skinner had each time a friend would approach her door. “She’d say, ‘Enter and be saved,’” Maggio recalled. After Skinner died, Maggio added, “It was so hard walking up her driveway and knowing I wouldn’t hear that.”

Among Skinner’s afflictions were rheumatic fever, diabetes, fibromyalgia, colitis, congestive heart failure and high blood pressure. In April she was hospitalized with severe kidney bleeding, and was in and out of the hospital and rehabilitation centers until she died last month.

For over 40 years, Skinner regularly attended community events held by East Meadow Kiwanis and the Chamber of Commerce, whose current secretary is her grandson James Skinner Jr.

Frank Camarano, who chairs the chamber’s board of directors, called her a “modern-day matriarch of the East Meadow chamber.” He has known the Skinner family for 20 years, and said, “They all are way stronger and more caring than average people, almost supernatural, always putting others before themselves. They got all of that from their mom.”

Skinner was predeceased by her brother, Bob McKee, and her sister, Sandra Sylvester. In addition to her husband, she is survived by her children, Lynne Blumenthal and her husband, Bob; Lorraine Nisi and her husband, Steve; Walter Jr. and his wife, Kim; Russell; James and his wife, MaryAnne; Gregg and his wife, Teresa; and 13 grandchildren.

Skinner never wanted flowers at her funeral. “She thought they were a waste of space and money,” Walter said. Instead, she wanted her friends and family to send donations to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.