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Graham MacFarlane Skea, died peacefully on Wednesday, September 26, 2018 at Middletown Park Manor, with his family by his side. He was 90 years old.
He was born March 20, 1928 in Orange, NJ, the youngest son of the late Jane (MacFarlane) and Robert Skea and the first in his family to be born outside of Scotland.
Following his graduation from East Orange High School, he enrolled at Seton Hall University, which he attended on a basketball scholarship for two years before enlisting in the United States Navy, stationed in Pensacola, FL. Following his honorable discharge, he returned to New Jersey and completed his English degree at Upsala College, where he continued to play basketball. Although he wasn’t a very tall man, he was a gifted point guard and captained his high school and college basketball teams.
After graduating from Upsala College in 1951, Graham began working for the East Orange, New Jersey Parks System as Assistant Superintendent of Recreation. Less than five years later, he was promoted to the position of Superintendent. He served in that capacity until 1967, when, seeking a better quality of life for his family, they moved to Montgomery, NY, where he accepted the position of Orange County Commissioner of Parks, where he remained until his retirement in 2005.
As Graham adjusted to his new role as Parks Commissioner, his family spent their time acquiring horses, learning how to ski, and hosting numerous gatherings. They all enthusiastically embraced their new life at the place affectionately referred to as “The Farm.” At that time, they also purchased the family home in Barnegat Light, Long Beach Island. As the family grew, Graham continued to spend time with his children and grandchildren, celebrating the Fourth of July in the Park, summers down the shore, or playing basketball in one of the parks. He took incredible pride in sharing the spaces he created with the people he loved. While he often received accolades for his professional accomplishments, he was equally proud of the success and well-being of his family.
In the early 1960s, many Orange County leaders and residents could not imagine the need for preserving open space for recreation as many saw the county as one big open space for hiking and farmlands. Graham had a vision though, and immediately got to work.
In 1969, he secured the donation of the Thomas Bull homestead and 189 acres, founding the Hill-Hold Museum and increasing the future Thomas Bull Memorial Park to 652 acres. Between 1967 and 1973, he oversaw numerous new programs and offerings at Thomas Bull including day camp area, golf course, tennis courts, boating pond, night skiing and a horse riding ring. In 1971, he pushed the county to purchase the 648 acre Warwick Park, the future site of Hickory Hills golf course. In 1975, he secured the donation of the 1768 Brick House in Montgomery. Between 1977 and 1983, Graham worked with the Orange County Citizens Foundation to buy the former D&H Canal site from 30 owners. In 1990, he began planning the arboretum on the eastern end of Thomas Bull. In 1994, he sponsored the effort to establish the Heritage Trail from Middletown to Harriman. In 1995, he pushed for the establishment of the Hudson River park on the state owned land at Plum Point in New Windsor. In 2003, he oversaw the acquisition of the 67 acre Blackburne Farm, adjacent to Thomas Bull, and the county takeover of Crestview Lake in New Windsor.
Graham would be the first to tell you that none of his achievements would have been possible without the support of benefactors, political supporters, and longtime, dedicated staff members.
Upon his retirement in 2005, he left a parks system that had grown to over 3000 acres of golf courses, museums, historic sites, hiking trails, ball fields, scenic parks, and a ski lodge, which was appropriately renamed the Graham M. Skea Parks and Recreation Center. His greatest professional accomplishment, however, was the Orange County Arboretum, a 35 acre space that brings joy, tranquility, and botanical education to everyone who uses it.
Graham dedicated his life to bettering the lives of Orange County residents by providing exceptional recreation areas for all and by sharing his knowledge with others. To borrow the word he used to compliment people he most admired, he was a giant.
He is survived by his wife Shirley Byrne Skea and their six children: Beth Ann Watson and her husband, Willard H. Watson, III of Dorset, VT; Cynthia O’Banks and her husband John of Montgomery, NY; Kathleen Holly Skea and her partner Philip Bourn of Manchester, VT; Graham P. Skea and his wife, Mary Anne of The Woodlands, TX; Barbara Benedict and her husband Gregory of Londonderry, VT; and Jennifer Thiesen and her husband, Larry of Providence, RI; his ten grandchildren: Megan Harting and her husband George; Daniel O’Banks, Brian O’Banks, Kara Watson, Willard H. Watson, IV; Molly Watson; Moira Romero and her husband Guillermo, Brenna Skea, Adam Thiesen, and Taylor Thiesen; his five great-grandchildren: Nolan and James O’Banks, Rebecca and Eric Harting, and William Romero. He also leaves his dear friend and companion, Jill McCormick.
He was predeceased by his brother Albert Skea.
Visitation will be on Sunday September 30, 2018 from 2-4 & 6-8 pm at the Millspaugh Funeral Home, 22 Bank St.Walden, NY.
Funeral services will be on Monday October 1, 2018 at 11 am at Goodwill Presbyterian Church, Route 208, Montgomery, New York 12549.
Following the service, Friends are invited to a repast at the Graham Skea Lodge in Thomas Bull Memorial Park, 211 State Route 416, Montgomery, NY
Memorial donations may be made to Graham Skea Endowment Fund to benefit O.C. Arboretum, C/O Community Foundation of O.C., 30 Scotts Corners Dr, Suite 203, Montgomery NY 12549 Web: https://cfosny.org/?s=graham+skea
Interment will be private at St. Marys Cemetery, Montgomery, NY.
Graham Skea Endowment Fund to benefit O.C. Arboretum/ C/O Community Foundation of O.C.
30 Scotts Corners Dr, Suite 203, Montgomery NY 12549