Jeri Skinner — who in various careers in the arts, hospitality and as a founder of Builders Beyond Borders impacted and influenced countless Westporters — died peacefully on March 6, of congestive heart failure. She was 82 years old.
She was born in 1938 in Sioux City, Iowa. After high school her family moved to California, where Jeri worked as a secretary for Lockheed. She met her future husband, John Skinner, at the Officers’ Club at Moffett Field in Sunnyvale.
They were married in 1959. Their son Christian was born on February 9, 1960. Craig followed exactly two years later, on February 9, 1962.
Jeri and her family moved to Westport in 1969. She lived there for over 45 years. Jeri found great joy as a public relations specialist for the Levitt Pavilion, then as public relations director for the Darien Dinner Theater.
She made lifelong friends through her career in the theater, and often invited actors to stay at her home during their run.
Jeri loved playing hostess and planning gatherings. She started her own event business, Fête Accompli, in 1988. She planned upscale events for Fendi, the Isle of Man, Harvard, and many more.
As the wife of a naval officer and international commercial pilot, Jeri loved traveling the world. She enjoyed experiencing different cultures, and sought out unique gifts for family and friends.
Following their retirement, Jeri and John became leaders for Kingdom Builders at Greens Farms Congregational Church. This laid the foundation for not-for-profit Builders Beyond Borders, to build and repair homes, clinics, daycare centers and more for the less fortunate.
Jeri and her family assembled groups of teens. They traveled to Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Honduras, instilling values of generosity, service, and goodwill.
Jeri was also proud to serve as historian for the Southport Congregational Church. She and John traveled to Boston to have the pulpit Bible restored. She also commissioned the restoration of the 115-year-old stained glass windows in the church. She found the studio in New Jersey that made the original windows to complete the work.
Jeri and John loved Charleston, South Carolina, and often spoke about moving there. Jeri moved to Mount Pleasant, South Carolina last September. She quickly made friends. She loved sitting on her balcony, and often boasted she had the best apartment there.
Jeri was often described as candid and spunky, attributes she wore as a badge of honor. She often claimed she had a filter, but said she never saw fit to use it.
She died at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. Her son Chris and his wife Tammy were with her. Though COVID restrictions made it difficult for visitors to gather, the caring and attentive staff ensured that Jeri’s loved ones could speak to her, share memories, and play her favorite music during her final hours.
Jeri was preceded in death by her husband of 57 years, John. She is survived by her sons Christian (Tammy) and Craig (Elizabeth); granddaughters Jennifer Skinner, Amanda Dempsey and Emily Skinner; great-grandson Killian, and great-granddaughter Maeve; step-grandson Howard Dias; sister-in-law Patricia Peck various nephews and nieces; “daughter-in-heart” Marianne Challis-Root, and her French bulldog Winston.
In addition, Jeri leaves behind dear friends who are like her extended family: her “son-in-law” Frank Root; “grandson” Alanson Root, his wife Ashley, their son Atlas and daughter Arden; “granddaughter” Abigail Root Mulgrew and husband Ben; “grandson” Phillip Bettencourt; “Uncle” Bob Logan; “Uncle” Rick Donner, and many others who held Jeri in their hearts.
Like her husband John, who donated his body to Yale University, Jeri donated her body to Anatomy Gifts in the hopes of furthering scientific research.
As a tribute to her husband and his battle with Parkinson’s disease, donations can be made in her and John’s name to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
A celebration of Jeri’s life will be arranged at a later date. (Hat tip: Dick Lowenstein)