Ned Skinner was the grandson of Seattle businessman David E. Skinner (1867-1933) of Skinner & Eddy Shipyard, Pacific Steamship Co., and the Port Blakely Mill. Skinner and his wife Jeanette (d. 1951) were early patrons of Children's Orthopedic Hospital and Jeanette served on the hospital's Board of Trustees.
Ned was born in Seattle in 1920. He attended Lakeside School and Dartmouth College. After graduation in 1942, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served as an officer aboard a destroyer in the Pacific during World War II.
Skinner took over Alaska Steamship after the death of his father, G. W. Skinner, in 1953. Increased competition from state-subsidized ferries and barge operations had put the company into a decline and Skinner had to close it in 1971, a major disappointment in his business life. But as head of the Skinner Corporation, Ned branched out into real estate (the Skinner Building and 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, Carillon Point in Kirkland), Pepsi-Cola bottling, and NC Machinery tractor sales. By 1988, the Skinner Corporation was the 10th largest privately held corporation in the U.S.
In 1960, Skinner joined with other investors to form the Pentagram Corporation to build the Space Needle, a futuristic, 605-foot tower and revolving restaurant that would become the icon for the Century 21 Seattle World's Fair and for Seattle itself. The 1962 World's Fair marked the shift in Seattle from "provincial backwater into a genuinely cosmopolitan port city" (Crowley). Skinner is said to have raised more than $5 million for the fair and was prepared to take a loss on his own investment if it raised Seattle's profile in the world.
Skinner sat on the boards of the Boeing Company, Safeco, Pacific Northwest Bell, Pacific National Bank, and actively guided corporate policy. Andy Smith, president of Pacific Northwest Bell, described Skinner as an "activist board member" who wanted to know "why we're doing this; why don't we do that" (The Seattle Times). He declined many offers to join boards of companies based outside of the Northwest.
In 1972, Skinner and Herman Sarkowsky decided that Seattle should have a professional football team. For them this was as much a business enterprise as an effort to perform some civic good. They organized a series of lunches to recruit partners and when they got to six, they stopped. The Seattle Seahawks played their first game in 1976.
Skinner took a lead in encouraging corporations to give more of their profits back to the community. "If all corporations gave just 2 percent of their pre-tax earnings," Skinner said, "there isn't a school, hospital, retirement home or museum that would have to conduct a fund-raising drive. The money would be there." The Skinner Corporation gave more than 5 percent of its earnings through the Skinner Foundation, which Skinner founded in 1956.
Skinner's community service extended to the Corporate Council for the Arts, the Museum of Flight, the Pacific Science Center, the Seattle Art Museum, Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center, PONCHO, the 5th Avenue Theatre Association, the University of Washington, the Seattle Foundation, and the state International Trade Fair. He chaired the Washington Roundtable, a group of civic-minded chief executive officers. His last involvement was with Washington Gives, what he called "the cause of all causes" (The Seattle Times).
Just before his death in 1988, he told a crowd gathered to honor him with the YWCA's Isabel Colman Pierce Award, "Humans seem to have a built-in physical need to give. Researchers believe the warm rush we feel when we do something good is triggered by our brain's endorphins ... just like the highs some people experience from running" (The Seattle Times).
Ned Skinner died of cancer on August 7, 1988.
Kayla (LaGasa) Skinner grew up in Tacoma and attended the Annie Wright Seminary before attending the University of Washington and Stanford University. She moved to Seattle in 1942 upon her marriage to Ned Skinner. She was then already known as one of "the smart younger set" in Seattle society.
"Together, they became one of Seattle's most important power couples, before the term was invented, and at the center of the city's social, business, and cultural life. They were smart and well-educated, ambitious, and "wonderful looking," to borrow a phrase from one admirer, wholly devoted to the city and its well being. With their racehorses and their vineyards -- only a few of their interests -- their name symbolized glamour and sophistication, in Seattle and beyond" (Seattle P-I).
Propelled by her family's affluence and their commitment to community service, Kayla became a founding trustee of the Seattle Opera, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, the Seattle Repertory Theatre, and other arts organizations. Peter Donnely, president of ArtsFund, said, "As much as anyone, she defined the era beginning in the 1950s. Her influence was enormous, not only in culture and the arts, but also in the city's civic life. She would prevail upon people, cajole and influence them. When she decided to do something, it got done. She was a very strong and powerful woman." "It was easier to agree with her than to resist her because she so often turned out to be right" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).
She was one of the three people who founded PONCHO (Patrons of Northwest Civic, Cultural and Charitable Organizations) in 1962 to bail out the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, which had run up a large debt in producing the opera Aida. Over the years, PONCHO has raised some $28 million in support of the arts in the Northwest.
Kayla and Ned Skinner raised three sons, David, Paul, and Peter. Kayla Skinner died on July 14, 2004.