Robert L. Skillman III, WMAR-TV assignment editor

Newsman and photographer also had been a longtime member of the Colts Marching Band

  • Bob Skillman, a member of the Baltimore Colts marching Band for 24 years, at the funeral for Johnny Unitas in 2002.
Bob Skillman, a member of the Baltimore Colts marching Band… (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
March 17, 2012|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Robert L. Skillman III, a professional photographer who had been a part-time weekend assignment editor at WMAR-TV for a decade, died Tuesday of a heart attack at Northwest Hospital.

The Northwood resident was 59.

Mr. Skillman was attending the annual Ed Block Courage Awards ceremony at Martin's West when he collapsed from a heart attack. He was taken to Northwest Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, family members said.

Mr. Skillman was born in Baltimore and raised in Northwood. He was a 1970 graduate of Calvert Hall College High School and earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Baltimore.

While in high school, Mr. Skillman became interested in photography. He later worked in the FBI photo laboratory and as a photographer for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Authority.

During the nation's 1975-1976 bicentennial celebration, he toured the country as a staff photographer aboard the American Freedom Train.

Beginning in 1988, Mr. Skillman worked part time as WMAR's weekend assignment editor on the 3:30 p.m.-to-11:30 p.m. shift.

"He was a good guy to have in that job. He was pure Baltimore through and through, and knew all the streets and neighborhoods," said his former WMAR colleague, Mark A. Vernarelli, who is now spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

"Being assignment editor is one of the hardest jobs in the newsroom, because at any given moment you're dealing with breaking news, crime, drug raids, fires, accidents and ambulances going here and there," said Mr. Vernarelli. "He was a high-energy guy who wanted things done, and done now."

During one shift while Mr. Skillman manned the newsroom telephones, jockeyed two-way radios and listened to the police and fire scanners, a call came in from a severely disturbed woman.

"It was from a woman who threatened to kill her kids and then commit suicide," said John Ziemann, a former WMAR newsroom technician who is now president of Baltimore's Marching Ravens band.

"Bob kept her on the phone until the police got there. He even heard her click the gun, so he knew it was the real thing," said Mr. Vernarelli.

"He played it cool, very cool, and Mary Beth Marsden, who was the anchor that night, stayed and helped Bob," he said. "This distraught person was saved from suicide because Bob Skillman cared. That's the kind of guy he was."

"He stayed friends with the woman for years and made sure that she got through therapy. He even got to know her kids," said Mr. Ziemann.

"He was the kind of person who never wanted the limelight but deserved it. He was a genuine Baltimore character, like Mr. Diz or Harry the Hat," said Jamie Costello, WMAR news anchor.

"He'd still call me at all hours, and he always used the code name of 'Lieutenant Skillman,' so I knew who the call was from," said Mr. Costello with a laugh.

"In his side of the news, you needed a sense of humor and laughter to get you through. He appreciated the human aspect of things," said Joe Hammann, a former WMAR sports producer. "He was a very localized person who knew the history of Baltimore. He also appreciated all of the local sports teams and high school teams."

For the last 13 years after leaving WMAR, Mr. Skillman worked as a professional photographer.

Mr. Skillman loved music and was a longtime member of the Colts Marching Band.

"He played the trombone and sousaphone, and joined the Colts Marching Band in 1971. He was away from 1975 and 1976, when he was on the Freedom Train, and then rejoined in 1977," said Mr. Ziemann, who had been the band's director. "He was a fantastic musician and had been in the Calvert Hall Marching Band, which is famous."

"He showed up at Johnny Unitas' funeral wearing his Colts Marching Band uniform," said Mr. Costello.

"Bob was a fun, lighthearted fellow, and he loved the news business," said George Ward, who worked at WMAR as a news photographer and engineer for 26 years before retiring in 2003.

For the past few years, Mr. Skillman suffered from heart problems.

He regularly attended the Ed Block Courage Awards and was looking forward to this year's event, where he would get to see Mr. Costello's son, Matthew, receive an award.

"I talked to him two hours before he died, and he told me he had gotten a good report from his doctor," said Mr. Hammann.

"He lived for that banquet, and it was the highlight of his year. He had missed last year's because of heart problems, but told me he was excited about seeing Matthew get his award," said Mr. Hammann.

"He died doing something he loved," he said.

"On my very last day at Channel 2, after the station had not chosen to renew my contract after 16 years, I got a call from the front desk that a guest was in the lobby," said Mr. Vernarelli.

"I came out and there was Bob in tears, waiting to wish me well. I never forgot that gesture of kindness," he said. "God blessed me to have Bob Skillman as a friend."

Mr. Skillman was an organ donor.

He was a communicant of St. Matthew Roman Catholic Church, 5401 Loch Raven Blvd., where a memorial Mass will be offered at 10 a.m.March 24.

Surviving are his father, Robert L. Skillman Jr. of Northwood; a brother, Richard A. Skillman of Perry Hall; three sisters, Karen Goetz of Lutherville, Elizabeth Taylor of White Marsh and Kathy Dermotta of Edgewood; and many nieces and nephews.

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