Skidmore retires abruptly as lighthouse keeper

There is some mystery surrounding his departure.

3
Richard Skidmore, shown here at the Gay Head Light in 2018, has retired from his more than 30-year position as lighthouse keeper. There is some mystery surrounding the nature of his retirement. — Gabrielle Mannino

Updated July 22

Richard Skidmore is no longer the lighthouse keeper in Aquinnah, after more than 30 years.

Officially, Skidmore has retired, but it’s how his departure accelerated that remains a mystery. 

Initially, Skidmore’s position was on the Aquinnah select board agenda for a July 13 executive session, but no disclosure was given on the agenda for the exemption the board was using to talk about the position behind closed doors. Ultimately, board chair Gary Haley announced Skidmore’s retirement, and when they did go into executive session, Haley said, the board would instead talk about the police contract negotiations.

Reached on Thursday, July 14, Skidmore told The Times it was his idea for the executive session that had been scheduled. “I requested it because I wanted to discuss my employment,” he said. When he learned he could retire, the 73-year-old said he decided to do that. “I had decided to retire,” he said. “I was working my way toward that.”

The Aquinnah select board met again Tuesday. Asked why the lighthouse keeper position discussion was removed from the agenda as an executive session during the July 13 meeting and placed on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting as a regular item, board member Juli Vanderhoop said the board didn’t have to enter executive session because “he was gone at that point; it was no longer an issue.” 

Town administrator Jeffrey Madison chimed in to say Skidmore “resigned voluntarily,” but corrected himself to say he “retired voluntarily” so there was no need to have a discussion in executive session.

Madison refused to give a reason for the executive session.

When asked if the discussion had anything to do with vaccines, Madison said, “I don’t think it’s wise for the board to get into what may have been — it wasn’t, so there’s no reason to get into it.”

Earlier this month, the select board reiterated its policy that anyone working for the town must be vaccinated. At the time, Madison said an unidentified employee — who was suspended with pay — had resigned as a result of the policy, though the employee was not identified. Newly elected board member Tom Murphy urged the board to end the public conversation and have it behind closed doors in an executive session. Since it wasn’t on the agenda, the board could not talk about it until their next meeting.

The next week, the lighthouse keeper position showed up on the agenda as an executive session.

When The Times asked Skidmore whether he asked for the executive session to talk about the town’s vaccination policy, the call dropped. Attempts to reach Skidmore since have been unsuccessful.

Skidmore said he believes whoever takes over at the lighthouse, which is still used by the Coast Guard for navigation, will require training. 

During that July 14 conversation with The Times, Skidmore said he plans to concentrate on his art, writing, and filmmaking in retirement. “It’s going to be a while before I drive by the Gay Head Light and not think about what I should be doing right now,” he said.

The town now has a finalized job description for the lighthouse keeper position. A substantial amount of the job has to do with scheduling weddings and special events up at the lighthouse, which is a popular destination in Aquinnah and on-Island.

Madison said about eight people have already expressed interest in the position, including Isaac Taylor, who lives very close to the lighthouse. Town clerk Gabriella Camilleri will be taking up the event planning responsibility for the lighthouse, as she is in charge of event planning for other town buildings as well.  

Before any decision is made by the board, Madison suggested that the lighthouse committee be consulted, and a recommendation be brought back to the select board.

Updated to clarify that Gabriella Camilleri is not looking to assume the lighthouse keeper position, and is instead taking over the event planning for the town building. 

Reporter Lucas Thors contributed to this story.

3 COMMENTS

    • Your reply imo is a little heavy-handed. Executive session is inherently not ajar. Closed door. Not a reason to jab at someone’s integrity. Speaking of which, Jeffrey is not a selectman but I bet he does embrace openness in local government.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here