Rogue River's late mayor — a good and witty man

Journalists are trained to maintain a certain level of professional detachment. But when I got the call in the newsroom Friday that Rogue River Mayor Dick Skevington had died that morning, I got choked up.

OK, I wept.

It's not that I had such a close, personal relationship with the 84-year-old mayor. It's just that in the eight years I covered the close-knit riverside town for two different newspapers, I came to know its beloved leader as a truly nice fellow. And I really hate it when nice fellows leave our orbit.

Even when I know they are tired and deserving of their rest.

The popular mayor had battled health problems for months and was hospitalized several times since July. He'd had his knee replaced. He'd broken his hip. He told me he was "winding down" the last time I saw him at City Hall a few months ago.

"I'm sorry to hear that Mr. Mayor," I said, reaching across the counter to pat his hand.

"My mom made it to 93. But she always said getting old was pigeon poop. Are you gonna tell me she was right?" I asked, angling for one of his patented slow smiles.

In the back of his tired eyes, the Skevington trademark twinkle flickered.

"Pigeon poop. It is that," he confirmed with a nod.

But every day his health would allow, Mr. Mayor still showed up at City Hall. You could usually find him in City Administrator Mark Reagles' office. Studying up on the business of the day. Or simply offering encouragement to the younger man.

After serving two terms as a city councilman, the bearded, white-haired World War II veteran was in the final two months of his mayoral term when he died. He'd won his slot in a landslide victory in 2004, handily defeating the other candidate by a three-to-one margin.

Skevington's political style was low key. He didn't insert himself into every conversation. He didn't even comment on every issue brought before the council. But if there was something that needed saying, he said it.

He told me he liked to read my Southern Oregon Journal columns. I know he liked to twit me about some of my Since You Asked answers. I won't forget his feigned indignation when I incorrectly identified the species of the town's enormous Christmas tree. He'd helped plant the now 90-foot sucker when it was a spindly little sapling nearly half a century ago. He'd watered it, tended it and watched it grow until it eventually become too tall to decorate — even with a ladder truck. I think I'd called the behemoth tree a fir. Or maybe I was supposed to call it a fir? Whatever I did, it was wrong. And he had a good time calling me out on my mistake.

Mr. Mayor had a nimble wit and an encyclopedic memory. Naturally self-effacing, he could be slow to get started on a story. But once he cut loose, he'd hold you spellbound.

An active supporter of the community's tiny Woodville Museum, the town's No. 1 son was born July 10, 1924, in a family cabin on property that later became one of the city's greatest natural assets — Palmerton Park. He built bridges for the National Park Service for 28 years. He designed and built a swinging bridge that crossed Evans Creek in the '80s. And he hammered the last plank in place when the bridge was rebuilt in 2001 — after it had been washed away in the New Year's 1997 flood.

He had difficulty getting around in his later years. When the grand opening of the Rogue River Greenway was held two years ago, he was recovering from knee-replacement surgery.

Rogue River Municipal Clerk Carol Weir offered to chauffeur the city's chief dignitary to the Greenway's ribbon-cutting ceremonies. I scrambled aboard that afternoon, too. Once the mayor and his cane were carefully tucked inside the van, someone squawked into Weir's walkie-talkie.

"Is the mayor ready to roll?"

"Precious Cargo on board," she replied calmly.

Precious indeed.

Rest now, Mr. Mayor. But know you will be sorely missed.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail

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