Front Row: 'Skills' Goes Out In Style, At Block Courage Awards
By Michael Page
Longtime Baltimore Colts Marching Band member and WMAR-TV assignment editor Robert L. Skillman III succumbed to a long battle with a heart condition while attending the Ed Block Courage Awards March 13. "Skills," as his friends called him, will be missed for his never-ending encouragement and for the immense love he showered upon those with whom he came in contact.
"He called me [March 11] and told me he was going to come to the awards," said Jamie Costello, Skillman's friend and WMAR co-worker, "and he was pretty much housebound. That heart could go at any second. But he had to be there. Him dying on the kitchen floor at Martin's West … you know, we don't get to pick how we die or where we die, but that was perfect for Skill. For 30 years, he came in that entrance and through that back door at Martin's West and through that kitchen and into the Ed Block Courage Awards, and for him to die right there on that floor is like a monument to him."
Skillman was determined to be present to show his support for Costello and his son, Matthew, who was receiving an Ed Block Courage Award for his battle with cancer, and for friend and former co-worker Scott Garceau, who was also being honored.
"The fact that Jamie Costello's son, who is battling cancer and was being honored and got an Ed Block Courage Award that night, meant [Skillman] had to be there for Jamie and his son," Garceau said. "He always looked at us like family."
Skillman was a Baltimorean through and through. He grew up in the shadow of old Memorial Stadium, graduated from Calvert Hall and received a bachelor's degree from the University of Baltimore. Following college, Skillman worked in the photography lab for the FBI and toured the country as a photographer on the Freedom Train. In 1988, Skillman joined the WMAR team and quickly became part of the family.
"We'd be playing pranks on each other," former WMAR photographer Joe Hammond said. "I would play pranks on him at the assignment desk. He was knee-deep in the murder and fires and things and we were over in the sports department, and we would prank him on the phone. He loved laughter, and he would tell me that laughter gets him through a lot of those pressure-packed moments on the desk."
While manning the desk one day at WMAR, Skillman received a call from a woman who was threatening suicide. He kept her on the phone and talked her into getting help. To the day he died, the two remained friends.
For Skillman, friends were like family.
"Bob was a guest at my wedding," Hammond said, "and he was a photographer, and I'll never forget the moment we stepped off the plane from our honeymoon, Bob came to our house and gave me a big 11x14 picture that he took at our wedding in a frame, and that was really the first picture we had gotten from our wedding. I didn't even know he had taken pictures. He was like family. He was just a great guy overall, a really caring person."
Skillman was well known among friends and colleagues as someone that wasn't afraid to show he cared.
"He was one of the best friends you could ever ask for," Costello said. "When one of our co-workers at the station was let go, Bob showed up at the station and met him on his way out, and Bob was crying as if he was the one being let go. It was like Skillman took it personally. That's the kind of guy he was, the kind of friend you're talking about."
Skillman also played a part in helping bring football back to Baltimore. During the days following the Colts' departure, Skillman remained dedicated to the band.
"Bobby was one of the members of the band that stayed with us for all of those years while we were trying to get a football team back here in Baltimore," said John Ziemann, president of the Baltimore Ravens Marching Band and former percussion director for the Colts' band. "On a Monday night, when the legislative session was meeting and the opposition to the stadium being built was winning, the band showed up and played and got the juices flowing again for the people hearing the band and the fight song and realizing how much the team would mean to the city and the community.
"They were an hour and a half late getting the legislative session started, because we were playing outside. The following Friday, the legislation passed. Bobby was always late, but that night, he was there early."
Skillman's dedication to his friends and to Baltimore was always on display for all to see. When John Unitas passed away, Skillman decided to honor him the best way he knew how.
"Bob showed up [to the funeral] in his old Baltimore Colts Band uniform and we have a picture of him with his fist up to his eye," Garceau said. "He was wiping a tear from his eye. He represented what all of Baltimore felt that day. He would show his emotions. You knew if he cared about you. That was Bob Skillman. He thought that was John's day. That was his way of saying, 'Thanks, John.' "
Garceau and Hammond had the honor of presenting Skillman's family with a special thanks from the Baltimore Colts.
"Joe Hammond and I presented a ball to Bob's family that Lenny Moore had signed," Garceau said. "It said to the Skillman family, 'Thanks for sharing Bob with us for all those years, from Lenny Moore and the Baltimore Colts.' "
"Bob Skillman is not going to have a building named after him," Costello said. "He didn't win the Nobel Prize. He never ran for office. He never won the Preakness, but it doesn't matter, because he was one of your great friends. When you were with him, he made you feel like you were the most important person in the world."
As his days at WMAR came to an end, Skillman would make his rounds and stop in the sports room as the crew was gathering to talk sports and the show they had just completed.
"He'd always come by and give you a 'good stuff,' " Garceau said. "That was his thing, 'good stuff.' We would think that we must have had a good show tonight, because we got a 'good stuff' from Skills."
"I honestly believe that everybody wholeheartedly believes he went doing something he loved," Hammond said. "He was in a place where it actually made sense as the place for him to die."
More Front Row:
• 'Skills' Goes Out In Style, At Block Courage Awards
• Williams Among Honorees At Annual Vitale Festival
• Oriole Advocates Endure Through Thick And Thin
• Fictitious Chase Fronts STX Putter Campaign
• Winners Of Super Pool Contribute To Charities
• From The Cheap Seats
Issue 172: April 2012