School Board honors mother to many

Published 8:56 pm Monday, January 13, 2020

The Suffolk School Board last week posthumously honored Lorraine Brinkley Skeeter, a longstanding colleague who served as a board member for decades and who became a “great champion for education in Suffolk Public Schools.”

That was how Suffolk School Board Chair Phyllis Byrum described the late Skeeter at Thursday’s board meeting at City Hall. The School Board presented a resolution that honors Skeeter “for the outstanding leadership provided to the School Board for the City of Suffolk.”

Skeeter died on Nov. 22, 2019, four days shy of her 80th birthday.

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According to the resolution, Lorraine Brinkley Skeeter was first elected to the School Board in 1993, representing the Cypress Borough, and she served until 2018. She also served as School Board chair from 2002 to 2010.

Byrum considered Skeeter to be “the mother of the School Board,” and a guiding light for Byrum and others on the board.

“She was truly the mother of the Board,” Byrum said at the meeting. “If you had a problem, or if you had a concern, or if you didn’t understand something — if you didn’t know a policy — you could go to Lorraine and she could tell you the history and how things had been and how things were. She was a great source.”

Skeeter was also “mother” to the superintendents who served during her 25-year tenure on the School Board. According to the resolution, Skeeter was involved in the hiring of four superintendents of Suffolk Public Schools, including former Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney.

According to Whitney, Skeeter truly embodied Suffolk Public Schools, and she played a major role in improving the schools over the years.

She was responsible for the school division’s service award program, “where she pointed out the importance of recognizing those who have served the school division for years,” Whitney stated in an email. She was also responsible for the Superintendent’s Star Award Program, which recognized employees of all levels and departments, “thanking them for the job that they do.”

“I can specifically recall her saying something like, ‘recruitment is important, but we have to make sure we are recognizing and treating our current employees right, first,’” Dr. Whitney stated.

She never wanted to be recognized for her various positions and titles — she just cared about people.

“It did not matter the role, title or position. She always wanted to do what she thought was fair for employees, what was right for parents, and was best for students,” Dr. Whitney wrote. “Suffolk Public Schools and the Suffolk community is a better place because of Mrs. Skeeter.”

During her tenure on the School Board, the resolution states, Skeeter was instrumental in the construction of a number of different schools: Mack Benn Jr., Northern Shores, Hillpoint, Creekside, Pioneer and Florence Bowser elementary schools; King’s Fork and Col. Fred Cherry middle schools; and King’s Fork High School.

She aided the School Board in renovating Oakland and Booker T. Washington elementary schools, and in the creation of the College and Career Academy at Pruden. She also led the School Board in the opening of Turlington Woods School, the first daytime alternative school in Suffolk.

“I think the city of Suffolk, not only the school system but the entire city of Suffolk, will sorely miss her for her contributions to the city,” said former School Board member Enoch Copeland, who spent 12 years and six months with Skeeter on the board.

Michael Debranski, who served on the School Board with Skeeter for 12 years, said she was a kind person and an “outstanding School Board member.”

“Lorraine was a thoughtful person,” Debranski said. “She always considered everyone else’s remarks as a board member. She wasn’t afraid to speak up for what she thought was right.”

Byrum and other members of the board got to know Skeeter better through years of board meetings, meals spent together and carpooling to events across Virginia.

“I learned a lot about her family, her values, and what she really loved,” Byrum said at the Jan. 9 meeting. “We spent a lot of time talking about families. She loved recipes, she loved cooking, she loved so many things beside the School Board that she was interested in, but no matter where we went or what we did, one thing that always was on Mrs. Skeeter’s mind was her family and the School Board.”

Byrum and her colleagues described how Skeeter lost two sons during her School Board tenure, but despite these tragedies, she never faltered.

“She lost two sons during the time I knew her,” said Linda Bouchard, who spent eight years on the School Board, “and I felt that even though she had great tragedies in her life at times, she always rose above it, and she always did what was expected of her on the board.”

Skeeter always spoke highly of Aubrey “Bobby” Skeeter, her husband of 62 years. Her husband was her “backbone,” Byrum recalled Skeeter saying, the person that kept her going through hard times, and her dance partner for many joyous occasions.

“They were a ‘dynamic duo,’ I would call them,” Byrum said.

Aubrey Skeeter said his late wife wasn’t just a mother to the School Board, but also to family and friends, and to the community, as well.

“Everybody’s problem became her problem, it seemed like. She was one of those type of persons,” he said.

The Jan. 9 resolution stated that during lean budgetary years, Skeeter provided “exceptional leadership” on the School Board that helped lessen the financial impact on students enrolled in Suffolk Public Schools. She was considered “a trail blazer, who worked tirelessly for Suffolk Public Schools.”

“We will forever cherish the special relationship we shared with her during her 25 years of service on the Suffolk City School Board,” the resolution states.