A haven for Barry to 'work on me' Mayor's retreat offers seclusion, help toward inner peace

April 30, 1996|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Marina Sarris contributed to this article.

When Washington Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. needed a peaceful re-entry from prison in 1992, he headed to a secluded house owned by friends in southern Anne Arundel County.

Now, calling himself physically exhausted and spiritually depleted, the mayor has returned to the Skinner Farm in search of "rejuvenation."

"I am truly blessed to have such a place to accomplish this necessary work," Mr. Barry said Saturday in a statement that caught his beleaguered city off guard. "It is without a doubt the perfect place for me to work on me."

The Skinner Farm retreat, launched in 1991 by old friends of the mayor's, the late Rev. Tom Skinner and his wife, Barbara, offers formal and informal, spiritually oriented get-aways for politicians, executives and others.

The two-story wood frame house, built in 1980, sits on 23 acres on a rural stretch of Route 2 in Tracy's Landing, about 18 miles south of downtown Annapolis. The two-lane road is bordered by farms, grazing horses and an occasional gas station.

The house, which is set back from the road, has a whirlpool, a library and several bedrooms. Feeders put up by Mrs. Skinner attract dozens of species of birds.

By several accounts, Skinner Farm offers a quiet place for relaxation and spiritual fortification.

"It's a place where people can be themselves and let their hair down and not worry about the press peeking over the fence," said the Rev. H. Beecher Hicks, a Washington preacher and a member of the board that oversees the Skinner Farm Leadership Institute. "They can pray and reflect and not worry about what's happening in the rest of the world."

The farm has been the site of seminars for various groups, mostly of black leaders from business and government.

Participants take part in formal sessions or spend their time doing what they want.

"The object of the place is not having anything to do," Mr. Hicks said. "It's a good place just to talk, sit around, shoot the breeze."

Besides the three-day visit after his 1992 release from prison on a drug charge, Mr. Barry, 60, said he was also at Skinner Farm when he decided to run for the District of Columbia city council in 1992. He was there again in 1994 when he decided to make another try for mayor.

This time, Mr. Barry said he needs at least a week at Skinner Farm to cope with exhaustion brought on by a year's worth of thorny budget battles and aggravated by prostate surgery last December.

The mayor also said he has not devoted enough time to his 12-step recovery from alcohol and drug use that helped force him from office and land him in prison.

Yesterday, a member of Mayor Barry's security force blocked the driveway leading to the farm with his vehicle. The man, who did not give his name, stopped the flood of reporters and camera crews who showed up throughout the day for a glimpse of the farm.

Raymone Bain, Mr. Barry's spokeswoman, offered few details about the mayor's stay at the farm since his arrival Saturday.

He began the day yesterday with tennis played at a nearby court, Ms. Bain said. The match was moved up two hours to 7 a.m. to avoid media scrutiny.

Otherwise, Mr. Barry has been in counseling sessions, she said, although she could offer no details. While his goal was to get away, many friends have been calling the farm and some even have driven to spend some time with the mayor, Ms. Bain said.

The mayor was accompanied by his wife, Cora Masters Barry, and his mother, Mattie Cummings. His high school-age son, Christopher, stayed behind in Washington to attend school, Ms. Bain said.

The farm became a retreat in 1991 after it was purchased by the Skinners for $284,700.

Mr. Skinner, who died at the age of 52 in June 1994, was a well-known church figure in the worlds of government and professional sports in Washington. A minister's son who grew up in Harlem, Mr. Skinner served as chaplain for the Washington Redskins in the 1970s, and he was one of three ministers who officiated at Mr. Barry's 1994 wedding.

Mr. Skinner delivered motivational speeches for corporate leaders, college students and youngsters around the country, often stressing that the problems of society are linked to the spiritual problems of individuals.

"If we are going to talk about the healing of the city, we've got to talk about the healing of relationships," Mr. Skinner once said in an interview. "In fact, the great problem that divides people is that we no longer hang out."

His Washington funeral in 1994 attracted a diverse crowd of mourners, ranging from members of the Redskins to poet Maya Angelou and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

"He was one of the most focused individuals I have known in a long time," said Kweisi Mfume, the former congressman and head of the NAACP, who knew Mr. Skinner for a decade. "Every bit of his time and every portion of his being was aimed at creating dialogue, going to the heart of problems, finding solutions and making this a better nation."

Pub Date: 4/30/96

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