James Skeffington, the Providence lawyer and longtime Rhode Island deal-maker who served as the public face of the new ownership of the Pawtucket Red Sox, died Sunday at age 73.
Skeffington was the top public spokesman and cheerleader for the group that bought the PawSox in February.
He had deep roots in Rhode Island and helped assemble a number of big deals over the years, including the construction of the Rhode Island Convention Center, Providence Place, and the Providence Westin. He was a lead counsel to the Boston Red Sox on special development projects.Ian Donnis talks with Chuck Hinman about what Jim Skeffington's death means for the PawSox' Providence ballpark proposal.
Skeffington's death leaves a void for the PawSox as the team's new ownership group revises a proposal for moving the team to a new ballpark in a part of Providence being targeted for economic development. The initial request -- for $120 million in state lease payments over 30 years, and an equally long property tax exemption -- met with a generally negative public reaction. Governor Gina Raimondo called on the team to develop a pitch more in line with taxpayers' needs, and it remains unclear when a revised proposal will be made public.
Two of the other Rhode Islanders who are part of the new PawSox ownership -- Tom Ryan, ex of CVS and Terry Murray, ex of Bank of America -- have Florida mailing addresses and seem unlikely to take on the day-to-day outreach role welcomed by Skeffington.
In a brief statement, Raimondo said, "It was with great sadness that I learned of Jim's passing. Jim was dedicated to his community and his family. His commitment to building a stronger economy in Rhode Island will have a lasting impact on our state. My thoughts and prayers are with his loved ones."
Jim Skeffington was stricken Sunday while jogging near his home in Barrington, said his brother, Jack Skeffington.
"We just loved him," Jack Skeffington said. "He was a loving brother, took care of the whole family, even though he was the baby of our family, and he was so good to his family. He was so good to so many people that didn't have anything at all. He supported some families of lawyers that died at a young age, with young children. God even knows what he did for them."
Jack Skeffington said his brother had been in New Jersey for the first communion of a grandchild and returned to Rhode Island following the death of a close friend, lawyer John T. Walsh.
Jack Skeffington said he remembers his brother as a deeply religious person who loved sports and who was devoted to his family.
Boston Red Sox President/CEO Larry Lucchino, part of the ownership group that bought the PawSox in February, said, “All of us with the Boston Red Sox and the Pawtucket Red Sox have suffered an enormous loss, both personally and professionally. We have lost a close and loyal friend, a great business partner, and a veritable Rhode Island institution."
“Skeff was passionately devoted to his home state, a land he loved with all his heart," Lucchino continued. "He loved virtually every sport he encountered, especially baseball, and he seemed to attend every sporting event he could. He was deeply committed to the PawSox and to ensuring a bright future for the franchise in Rhode Island. We will miss his spirit, his optimism, and his joviality. We will miss his knowledge, his intellect, and his wisdom.
“On a personal level, I will miss a good and decent man who for many years has been a dear friend to me. I could always rely on his candor, camaraderie, and compassion. He may have been the most generous person I have ever known; there was never a check he wouldn’t grab; there was never a worthy charitable cause he would not support."
Skeffington's son, James J. Skeffington Jr., an executive at CVS, released the following statement from the family:
"Jim was blessed with extraordinary talents which he used to serve the community he loved. He was a legend in the legal community and an advisor to business leaders and government officials for nearly 50 years. Yet, despite the demands of a busy law practice, he made the time to serve on the Boards of some of Rhode Island’s most important educational and charitable institutions. And, he made it part of his life to reach out to individuals enduring difficult times in everyday life. He quietly came to the aid of many, asking nothing in return.
"The essence of Jim’s life was a strong devotion to his faith, to his family, and to his friends. With boundless energy and enthusiasm Jim enriched the lives of all around him.
"We have been overwhelmed by the kind thoughts and messages from so many friends. We ask God’s blessing for Jim and all who loved him.
Skeffington was a partner in the Providence office of Locke Lord, where his 28th floor office offered a sweeping view of Rhode Island's capital city.
In a statement, the PawSox said, "Jim was an extremely loyal and charitable man who, in his all too brief time with the PawSox, relished his new role as club president. He enjoyed learning all he could about the PawSox operation and meeting fans, staff, and players. Jim was committed to keeping the PawSox in Rhode Island and sharing his vision for a new ballpark. He was a true Rhode Islander who was devoted to his family and the entire community at large. Our condolences go out to Jim’s family and his many friends."
“I am deeply saddened by the stunning news of the passing of Jim Skeffington," House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said in a statement. "He was a true legend in the Rhode Island legal and business communities, having a hand in nearly every major project in our state for decades. Jim was a gentleman in every sense of the word and a real champion for all that is good about Rhode Island. It is tragic that he did not live long enough to see his vision for the Pawtucket Red Sox come to fruition, but he left a legacy that will live on for generations to come. He loved Rhode Island, and I will miss my friend."
Senator Jack Reed, who worked with Skeffington at Edwards & Angell in the 1980s, said he was deeply saddened by his former colleague's sudden passing. "He was a brilliant lawyer and a genuine, kind person," Reed said. "Jim was passionate about Rhode Island and dedicated to trying to make our state a better place. His civic-minded spirit will be missed by all who knew him and whose lives he touched.”
Skeffington's critics point to his role in the development of the Convention Center, for which taxpayers still pay more than $20 million a year -- more than two decades after it was completed.
Former Providence Journal political columnist M. Charles Bakst recalls Skeffngton as "extremely passionate, determined, driven ..... Only recently [did he become] well known to the public, but as a backstage power broker he was for decades at the epicenter of RI politics/government. Stadium project has been rocky road, but, certainly until this, he was a genius at figuring out how to get things done, and who's to say he ultimately couldn't have succeeded here too?"
Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien said, “While the City of Pawtucket recognizes that we may have had a difference of opinion as it pertains to the Pawtucket Red Sox and continuing to play at McCoy Stadium, the City offers its most sincere and heartfelt condolences to Mr. Skeffington’s family during this difficult time. Mr. Skeffington’s passing is a reminder to us all how precious and fragile life can be.”
Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed remembers Skeffington "as a talented attorney and businessperson. His contributions helped to change the Providence skyline. He leaves a legacy of development in Rhode Island which will be enjoyed for generations to come. The Senate is saddened to learn of his passing, and our condolences go out to the Skeffington family.”
Despite the skeptical reception for the PawSox proposal, Skeffington remained publicly upbeat, mixing his breezy conversational style with talk of how a new ballpark could boost Providence.
Skeffington graduated from Boston College, Georgetown University Law Center, and he had a tax degree from Boston University.
This post has been updated.