Billy Skinner has been Covington’s go-to man for a long time.
During his 40 years with the City of Covington as an engineer and transportation director, Skinner was called upon to complete a lot of projects and answer a lot of questions posed by city officials and residents alike.
“He always had time for everybody, no matter who you were,” Skinner’s wife of 48 years, Shirley, said. “No matter what you wanted to be done, you’d ask Billy and he could get it done. People knew they could depend on him.”
Skinner retired from the city last month, leaving behind a legacy of kindness, hard work and a job well done.
Born just 10 days after the Allied invasion of Normandy in World War II, Skinner was delivered at Covington’s Huston Hospital, which was located where the Checkers restaurant on U.S. Highway 278 sits now. Being a road man, Skinner makes sure to point out the hospital’s original driveway is still there.
“Daddy told the nurses to “Put him back; he’s all red and wrinkled,” Skinner said, laughing. “Daddy was something else.”
Daddy was Tom Skinner, a Mansfield native who married Lucille Haynes of Conyers.
Billy Skinner is at least a third generation Newton County resident, as his grandfather was born in the county and worked at the Bibb Manufacturing textile mill in Porterdale.
Skinner’s first job was as a shipping clerk for S.P. Richards Paper Co., a producer of paper products for businesses in the metro area, including Wood’s Office Supply on Covington square. From there, Skinner worked up the specifications for all sorts of telephone booths for Gladwin Industries.
“Back when payphones were on every corner,” Skinner said, “we built the fancy ones and everything from stand-up types to kiosks. Some went in bathrooms, which were the shells with the phone in there.
“My boss, he would draw them up, and we would put the numbers to them, draft them up, form them up so they could be fabricated,” Skinner said.
In 1968, Skinner returned to work in Covington, and he’d never leave again.
He took another shipping job with Campbell Lumber, where The Depot Bar and Grill sits today.
Then Skinner returned to school, this time as a teacher at the county’s vocational school on Newton Drive, where he taught drafting for two years. Both of his parents were proud of him, but Skinner wasn’t happy.
“I told Daddy, ‘I just can’t do it anymore. It’s not what I need to do,’” Skinner said. “I didn’t start life off to be a teacher. I thought I had a lot of patience prior to teaching, but I didn’t have a lot of patience after teaching.”
His father didn’t approve of Skinner’s next job, he said.
“Daddy had been working for the city for 18 years. He said the pay wasn’t that great,” Skinner said.
However, Skinner had formed a bond with City Engineer Ray Geiger, visiting him often on the days he would visit his father.
More than 40 years later, Skinner has no regrets.
“The city’s been a great place to work. Over the years, they’ve gotten the pay and benefits better,” Skinner said with a laugh. “I have, at times, put applications in, in Atlanta, but any time I get into all that traffic, I say, ‘Billy get home!’ I can be home in 10 minutes now; that makes up the difference.
“The city’s been great to me; I hope I’ve been good to the city,” he said.
Serving the city
Skinner has overseen expansion and improvement of numerous road projects, but he began his Covington career in 1972 as a drafting assistant, creating a file system for all of Geiger’s maps, working out in the field locating and mapping utility lines, retracing old maps, and creating a road index for the maps, so visitors could read them easier.
Skinner drew a map of the city of Covington itself, inking it on Mylar.
“When you draw all these lines, you just hope it doesn’t bleed,” Skinner said.
All the map lettering was done with Leroy pens, and Skinner still has his old pen set.
When Geiger moved to planning and zoning in 1974, Skinner took over the engineering department and stayed there until 2006.
Skinner has always loved the square, and its current look is due to Skinner’s work. The square used to be concrete, and when the state was getting ready to pave it with asphalt, there were several cracks in the concrete, from a quarter-inch to an inch-and-a-half wide, Skinner said.
Skinner worked with a company that, using fiber provided by Hercules Inc. (the forerunner of FiberVisions), created a fiber-asphalt mixture to fill and seal the cracks.
“Then the asphalt (crew) came and laid asphalt on top of it, and it kept all the cracks from bleeding though. It looked like a Band-Aid — you could see the seams, but the cracks stayed sealed,” Skinner said, noting it was an experimental process.
Skinner also drew the patterns for the hexagonal tiles that line the square’s sidewalks, and he oversaw their installation.
“The square is my heart. I had a lot of dealings up there on the square, and through a lot of the changes, I’ve been a part of it,” he said.
He’s proud of the city’s sidewalk and multi-use trail system, which, once the last section along Clark Street is completed this year, will allow residents to walk from Turner Lake Park to Home Depot and to Eastside High School.
Former city manager Steve Horton promoted Skinner to Transportation Director in 2006, as the engineering department focused more on storm water projects. Skinner worked on getting the roundabout installed at the intersection of Turner Lake Road and Clark Street, as well as the lengthening of the Covington Municipal Airport’s runway and preparation for a new terminal building.
He’s worked to relocate utilities for road projects and expand water and sewer service.
“There were so many different projects I worked on, with new challenges for some reason or another. Sometimes I would wonder how I was going to get it done. (Former public works director) Sam Walton and Steve (Horton) encouraged me and would tell me, ‘Billy, you can do it.’ I would go out and see about getting it done,” Skinner said.
He enjoyed working with other departments, learning from them and teaching in return, and interacting with the public.
“He knew everybody and called everybody by name. When we go to town — and he enjoys going places with me — sometimes I have to do it by myself, because he stops and talks to everybody. He never ignores anybody.”
Devoted family man
“He’s been a wonderful husband all these years, and I have waited for the last 10 years and looked forward to this,” Shirley said of her husband’s retirement.
The couple doesn’t have any specific plans right now, but they’re preparing for a big trip for their 50th wedding anniversary in August 2015.
“She’s been good to me,” Skinner said.
For now, Skinner is taking care of the to-do list at the house he and Shirley built off Dixie Road, and taking care of his seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. The Skinners are the parents of three daughters, Kathy Wooley, Hope Skinner, and Ricki Criswell, who died in a car accident four years ago. The whole family has stayed local, including Skinner’s sister Leigh Jay.
“I can tell one thing — he has really missed the city. Just in these two weeks he has really missed it. After so many years, it’s a change,” Shirley said.
Though he misses the people, he’s glad he’s still in the only place he’s ever called home.
“Through all the changes of lifestyles and everything, Covington has stayed a smaller community, and a place where people like to come and share time with each other and enjoy the beauty of it,” Skinner said.