Sunday, September 23, 2018
News Roundup

Epilogue: Vivien Skinner Grant helped keep Dunedin’s history alive

Vivien Skinner Grant was once known as the Mother of Dunedin.

She was about two years from her 100th birthday on Mother’s Day in 2011 when the City Commission gave her the informal title. But she was as dedicated to the city as ever, said Wendy Miles, her daughter. Ms. Grant had seen the city evolve over the decades, but as a member of one of the pioneering families, she was a constant in keeping its history alive.

"She just kept going. She had this indomitable spirit," Miles said. "As long as she lived, it would be easy for her to get stuck in one era, but she didn’t because she was still up for an adventure."

Ms. Grant, who served as a city commissioner and informal city historian, died peacefully in her sleep on Oct. 21. She was 104. Her brother, Benjamin "Ben" Skinner, died earlier this year.

Ms. Grant’s love for the city was tied to her family’s history. Her grandfather, L.B. Skinner, was a founding pioneer who made a name for himself through the orange grove business and was also mayor of Dunedin. They lived on Victoria Drive, their house overlooking islands south of Caladesi Island.

Ms. Grant grew up learning how to sail and watching the sun set over the city.

She used to believe she could sit on clouds. The fluffy, cotton candy-like ones were her favorite. She was disappointed when she was told it wasn’t true, but it didn’t stop her from admiring them whenever they traveled, Miles said.

"She would put her hand on my arm and say, ‘Oh, look at those clouds,’?" Miles recalled.

After graduating from Clearwater High School, she attended Rollins College for two years before attending Northwestern University, where she earned a degree in speech before taking a European theater tour in 1935, said Charles Skinner, the family historian. She visited France, Switzerland and England.

She spent some time working for radio programs in New York City during the Golden Age of Radio. She had aspirations of becoming an actor, but eventually moved back to Dunedin.

She took nearly every opportunity she could to travel. When Ms. Grant was 94, Miles tried to talk her out of traveling to Egypt. Instead, she bought her a cane with a seat attached to it. They took photos with pyramids in the background.

But Dunedin was home.

"I think her favorite spot was on her home on Edgewater Drive," Charles Skinner said. "She had continued this family tradition of being involved in city affairs."

The oldest of four, Ms. Grant took after her aunt Elizabeth Skinner Jackson, who was involved with the women’s suffrage movement. Ms. Grant had a charm that her friends and family described as uniquely hers. She was well known for letters she wrote on her typewriter that offered praise and critiques.

She served on the Planning and Zoning Committee and the Hammock Advisory Committee and spent 10 years as a commissioner, impacting the future of the city’s development through legislation.

She played a big part in keeping the city’s history alive, fighting to preserve the Andrews Memorial Chapel and relocating it to Hammock Park in 1973. She was also part of founding the Dunedin Historical Society, which runs the Dunedin Historical Museum.

That was where Vinnie Luisi first met her in the 1990s. She was volunteering on a Saturday, and she introduced him to the city’s past. He was already working at the Tampa Bay History Center, but he offered to help.

About two years later, he became the director of the museum. He worked closely with Ms. Grant, whom he called "a classy lady with a twist." He liked to call some of her trademark moves "Vivienisms."

Like the time when the city named the Vivien Skinner Grant Park after her, and during the dedication she discreetly told him there was a mistake.

"She goes, ‘You know, Vinnie, they actually spelled my name wrong, but it’s okay, I can live with that,’?" Luisi recalled. He immediately had the sign fixed, but she hardly seemed bothered.

The museum broke ground earlier this year for an expansion. Luisi said he wishes she was still around to have seen the final product and unveiling.

"She looked at life with a little smile and humor in everything," he said.

Contact Melissa Gomez at
[email protected]
Follow @melissagomez004.

Editor’s note — This article was changed to reflect the following correction: Vivien Skinner Grant grew up in a home on Victoria Drive in Dunedin. A Nov. 3 article on her death gave another location.

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