Paul Skinley: croquet player; b January 12, 1959; dated March 23, 2021.
Paul Skinley liked to joke that he learned croquet in his mother’s pram.
Skinley, known as “Mr. Wellington Croquet,” died in March after a battle with melanoma and a 50-year career playing the game he loved.
His mother, Frances Kui Skinley, introduced him to the sport. An active member of the Rangatira Croquet Club in Dannevirke, she played until she was nine months pregnant and later pushed Paul to the club in her pram.
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There was plenty of inspiration for a young lad, with the club boasting a number of high profile players, including Eileen Stephens and Gladys Browne, eager to pass on their knowledge.
Developing his own style, with an extra long hammer and an upright stance with knees closed, he started playing seriously at the age of 11.
The 1974 North Island Open Singles was the first of many titles, including three nationally.
At the national level he was an executive member of Croquet New Zealand, tournament manager, umpire, handicapper, national selector and a top player who regularly represented New Zealand.
Arriving in Wellington in 1978, he joined the Wellington Municipal Croquet Club and immediately impressed.
Friend and fellow club member Susan Leuchars says there was virtually nothing in the club that he didn’t do.
“He could often be found at the club at any time of the day making tournament schedules, organizing inter-club and club competitions, gardening, cleaning and maintaining the club grounds or making his delicious soups for the next tournament.”
A hallmark of his dedication was his willingness to coach anyone.
“He has been the rock of our club for over 40 years and has always been extremely generous with his time, especially when coaching new and school-age players.
“There would be very few members of the club who at some point on the lawn don’t have Paul’s voice in their head: ‘Stalk the ball’, ‘Keep your head down’…and my personal favourite, ‘Did you see your hammer hit the back of the ball? – No? – well, what do you expect’.”
As well as being a talented coach, his knowledge of the game and its history was “encyclopedic” and he had an uncanny ability to capture details of past matches.
“To us he is best described as ‘Mr Wellington Croquet’.”
However, life was not always easy for Skinley, who was 62 when he died.
Born with osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bones), he broke 17 bones as a child. In later life, he also suffered from hepatitis, heart disease and cancer.
Determined not to let his health stop him from playing, he remained an active club member.
“The number of times he came back from near-death situations with the determination to play another tournament, or run another event, or make another pot of soup, was pretty remarkable,” Leuchars says.
Irene Nelson says her brother had an interesting life without croquet.
“Paul loved and adored his cats, and he was a great cook. He was a very good knitter and quite artistic.”
He also liked horse racing and dancing, and enjoyed socializing.
“He was absolutely addicted to his horses, and people just really loved him. He will be missed by many people.”
He worked in menswear and for Duty Free NZ, managed a hotel and worked as a gardener.
A talented chef, he had to give up working in the hospitality industry when he contracted hepatitis.
Croquet, however, was his life and despite his struggles with ill health, he never lost interest in the sport and his beloved municipal club.
Leuchars says his contribution has been huge and he is a huge loss to the game.
“His achievements are legendary and his style probably unique.”
Skinley was a lifelong member of Croquet New Zealand, the Wellington Croquet Association and the Wellington Municipal Croquet Club.
Sources: Croquet New Zealand, Irene Nelson and Susan Leuchars.