The local performing arts scene sustained a serious blow on Friday with the news of Richey Suncoast Theatre managing director Charles "Charlie" Skelton's death in Las Vegas on July 4, where the Skeltons have spent summers for many years.
Mr. Skelton was 66.
"I didn't tell anyone at first because I wanted some time alone," said Marie Skelton, his wife of 34 years and his sole survivor. "I knew I would be flooded with calls." Besides, she added, "People were on vacation, and I saw no point in ruining their vacations."
The Skeltons are generally credited with saving Richey Suncoast Theatre from financial demise after they became involved in 1998 and he took over the presidency of the board in 2000.
During his tenure, the theater has been refurbished from the bare walls inside and out and has won several awards, including the Florida Secretary of State's Main Street 2003 Award for the rehabilitation of the theater.
Mrs. Skelton returned to the couple's New Port Richey home on Thursday and began calling friends and Richey Suncoast board members Friday with the news of her husband's death.
The couple had left for Las Vegas on June 17 and arrived on June 22 and began going to shows and sightseeing. They had gone out the night of June 30. "Charlie had won $500; it was his lucky night," Mrs. Skelton said.
The next day, he began feeling sick, Mrs. Skelton said. He entered the hospital around 5 p.m. July 3 and died at 1:15 p.m. July 4. Mrs. Skelton said she was notified on Thursday by the Las Vegas Health Department that the cause of death was Legionnaires' Disease, a bacterial infection transmitted in the mists from such things as air conditioning systems, indoor fountains and hot tubs.
The agency declined to confirm the diagnosis to the Times because of health privacy laws, but gave Mrs. Skelton permission to do so if she wished.
The disease has an incubation period of two to 14 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, so it is likely that Mr. Skelton contracted it during the drive to Las Vegas or in the city itself, not while he was at home, Mrs. Skelton said.
Mr. Skelton's system was compromised by other chronic diseases, which probably shortened the incubation period and hastened his death, she said. The Las Vegas agency told her it is starting an investigation to trace the source of the bacteria and has notified Florida officials to do the same from this end.
Mrs. Skelton was expected to meet with the theater board Friday evening to inform them and discuss the theater's future.
"I'm going to take over Charlie's spot," Mrs. Skelton said. "Charlie wouldn't want it to collapse."
Mr. Skelton was born in Philadelphia on June 18, 1946. Hie was a police officer there, but he soon joined the staff of then-Mayor Frank Rizzo as liaison between the police department and the mayor's office. He retired from that post in 1983 and started his own real estate company in New Jersey.
The Skeltons moved to New Port Richey in 1996 and became involved at Richey Suncoast two years later.
At the theater, he started Ticket to Broadway, a talent show by high school students that has funded tens of thousands of dollars worth of college scholarships for students majoring in the performing arts; a youth theater camp; the Shakespeare by the River Festival; and a series of concerts by Frank Parsons Big Band and other performers.
For 12 years, he wrote the annual holiday show, the quirky A Pasco Christmas, which played to sold out audiences almost from its inception.
He was instrumental in bringing the internationally renowned Black Maria Film + Video Festival to the theater in each of the past three years.
Mr. Skelton also served as president of Greater New Port Richey Main Street; on the board of Connections, a job preparation and placement agency; and on the Pasco County Republican Executive Committee.
A memorial service will be held at the theater on a Sunday in August to be announced, Mrs. Skelton said.