In Memory of

Mark Joseph Skinner

 

Mark Joseph Skinner

Born Wellington, New Zealand 1957 – Died Sydney, Australia 2015

A loving son and brother, Mark was also variously a husband, son- in-law, stepfather, grandfather, uncle, godfather, lawyer, colleague, and friend. He once quipped to me in the late 80’s, after some tricky end of romance moment – “..Relationships – the difficult one”. But with Jane, whom he met later, he cracked it, completely. Mark and Jane established a fabulous relationship of love and trust and true companionship. They sometimes seemed, as Aristotle might have said ‘a single soul inhabiting two bodies’. Or, as those of us who sat around their kitchen table might think, one soul operating two Apples (Mark an iPad and Jane a Mac).

It was an example to us all. From their solid base they enjoyed the good life of shared work, family, friends, food, wine, gin (and tonic), lots of newspapers, books, politics, travel, cooking – and more recently, baking. Sport, and especially rugby, was another shared interest. Like most Kiwis, and particularly once handy rugby players as Mark was, he loved the All Blacks. Like many right thinking Sydney-siders, so too did Jane. Sam – you were seen, I believe, as a work in progress. . I recall happily, as will others, watching games with them here at home in Sydney and occasionally abroad, for me in Barcelona.

Mark and Jane loved to travel – and travel together. They were masters of the game. They travelled widely, enjoying adventures in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Bali, Sri Lanka and India, the deserts of Oman and Morocco, and Spain, France, Italy and England. They travelled often with friends; reinvigorating, reshaping, and cementing friendships and making new ones. Sometimes they travelled solo. When they did, they would often make new friendships. They were good at this too. One of their first guides in Vietnam clearly took a liking to them, and took to introducing Mark as Mr Bill Clinton. There is a similarity. And a little later they met the fabulous Mr Hung who became a good friend and the chief organiser and MC for their delightfully different 1996 wedding in Nga Trang. More recently, they struck up a friendship with their boatman in Varanasi who later ‘facebooked’ news of pujas (or prayers) for Mark’s wellbeing. These trips were always done in style. Sometimes the lower rent end of style – cheap and cheerful digs in Saigon, or in the middle the very special Emperor’s villa in Nga Trang. And then at the upper end, a perpetual favourite, the Aman resorts (so much so that some of us wondered if they had bought in). They became experts in airlines, airline lounges and aircraft (or at least the front end of them). This relationship which Mark and Jane enjoyed was complete in all senses.

It is one which Jane will surely miss, but had the good fortune to build and to have.  Mark received many other wonderful benefits from Jane. A home in Sydney, Holly and Sam, whom he came to adore, and later Matt and Tam, also much loved. Then the children, Edward, Henry, Mo and Bessie, also much loved. I’ve met only some of the Bury’s wonderful Balmain tribe, in Vietnam or here, certainly not all. But you know who you are (as did Paul Keating). I can imagine the discomfort when Jane went to work in a corporate law firm, and then, even worse, the potential horror when you learnt she was bringing one of them home. Fortunately, and happily, it was Mark Skinner. Fortunate for you, just as you were fortunate for him. You all – the Burys, the Balmainians and his many other good friends here in Sydney, gave Mark a home in this wonderful city. You also helped him emerge as the true liberal, the libertarian I always knew he was, despite an early dalliance with the right wing of the conservatives of NZ politics. In truth he was a liberal centrist. This outlook was one of the defining characteristics of Mark’s life.

Mark’s profession as a lawyer was another. It too gave him a home, through his firm, Gadens, and his Gadens’ friends, colleagues and clients. He took a special interest in the Director of Human Resources (Jane for those of you who might not know), but his friendships and interests did not stop there. His start with Gadens in the late 1980s was not altogether easy. It was for him a new city, new state and federal laws, new colleagues, clients, competitors and adversaries. And his love of the practice of law was not constant. He liked not to surrender to it. This, in part, led at one memorable point to his resigning to look at other things, not least the possibility of writing a book on some obscure topic of military or cultural history. This led to lots of reading, photocopying, coffee and cigarettes. The book itself remained at its conceptual stage. After a time, he returned to Gadens where he had left Jane, allegedly and in jest in his leaving speech, as a hostage in the Roman tradition. To his credit, they wanted him back. This was no small thing in the habits of corporate law firms. It was a mark of his worth. While as I say he was slow to surrender to it, he often and for the most part loved his legal life, and he was good at it.  He enjoyed his partners in the firm, his various colleagues (at least one of whom, Kris Sawa, was with him from beginning to end), and his clients wider set of colleagues, and he enjoyed especially (of course) the various and special friends he made from amongst them all. And he loved the deals, especially the property project and casino financing deals. Workouts and issues were also welcomed, albeit with a little more measure. Mark did very well. He survived and prospered in what can be a challenging environment, he became a full equity partner and a Board member, and importantly he earned the respect of his firm, his clients and the wider community in which he worked. As it says on the Gadens’ website, ‘Mark is repeatedly listed as a leading banking and financial services lawyer in the Asia-Pacific 500, most recently in the 2014 edition. Since Mark’s unexpected seizure and diagnosis some 18 months ago, the firm – the partnership – has been very supportive of Mark and Jane. This is to its great credit. Mark was very grateful and proud.

My own first memory of Mark dates back to my year 7 of school in Wellington. We were not friends then – he was a year ahead of me so it was more or less unthinkable – but I found myself, in my year 7, in his year 8 class. It was hostile territory. I have a strong memory of Mark one day, over the other side of the classroom and two rows back, at Marist Brothers in Thorndon. There is no particular reason for this memory – not even a talk – but perhaps I sensed a safe port in the storm or what was to become a strong friendship later in life. That friendship began in our early 20s when we worked together in the same building, both fresh out of law school, and enjoyed the camaraderie of our peer group. We had our first real jobs! No small thing. Later on, after periods of travel and for me work abroad, we worked in the same law firm in Wellington, Bell Gully, and shared a fabulous house and household in Oriental Bay. We became fast friends.

Mark was, as you all know, a very good friend to have. He approached life with such gusto. I loved this about him. It manifested itself in various ways, his love with Jane being a prime example, but also other things, big and small – his enthusiastic conversation, the speed of this walk and talk when he was on a mission, his love of food, the way he could wolf down a beer or a gin and tonic and, who could ever forget, the way he smoked a cigarette. And later, to my surprise, the way he took to running and to getting fit. These were not the only things he devoured. There was information and, more importantly, knowledge. He loved it. He read news reports by the millions, newspapers by the tens of thousands, books by the thousands. The latter is no small feat. I would venture he was one of the most widely read people of his generation. I have no doubt. He has the largest personal library I know of and had read most of the content. The subjects varied across the spectrum of human endeavour, good and bad, of politics, religion, sport, drama and especially history. Military history was a particular interest. He was an expert. In more recent years, his net seemed increasingly cast on its wider historical and cultural context. His focus, in a word, was humanity. This may be in part what made him such a good photographer, something else he came to love. And maybe too why he, and Jane, loved TV dramas with flawed anti heroes, Ray Donavan and Justified being recent examples. His tastes were catholic, universal. His reading, his thirst for knowledge and his interest in people and the world certainly added to his immensely enjoyable wit and conversation.

Mark saw conversation as an art form, to be practised and honed, and as you all know, he was very good at it. As he was at abstract thought, something else he valued and honed. Mark was fully engaged with life and with the world around him. He embraced it all. He loved it. He gave it a great deal. He exuded charm, warmth, wit and generosity of spirit. He was gentle and warm. He was a gentleman. He had a good sense of right and wrong. He had a strong and broad intelligence. As one of our mutual friends said, he was a mahatma (meaning, in Sanskrit, a great soul). He sowed happiness and good cheer and he reaped the benefits. So did we. As Robert Louis Stevenson said ‘A friend is a gift you give yourself’. We chose well.

When he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour, his response, and Jane’s, was really quite astonishing. There was no regret, no complaint, no anger, or if there was it was never dominant. He, and they, just stepped everything up a notch or two. They got busy. They travelled. They visited. They reconnected. They put energy into Mark’s health, their relationship, their family, and their friends. And Facebook, at which they are both adept and prolific. He, and they, had a great 18 months. The truly bad part, at the end, was mercifully short. Throughout this Mark and Jane remained cheerful and relentlessly brave.

Mark – you lived well, you were and are much loved and you will be sorely missed.

This mosaic image of Mark has been created using photos from the Cure The Future family album, featuring many people who knew and loved Mark Skinner.

It is in loving memory – and to help remind us that we are all connected.

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