Jerry Skinner was a prominent politician and war hero from New Zealand, who served as the third deputy prime minister of the country from 1957 to 1960. He was also a minister of agriculture and lands in the first and second Labour governments, and a member of parliament for Buller and Motueka. He died on 26 April 1962, at the age of 62, after suffering a heart attack. This article will explore his life, achievements, and legacy.
Early Life and Military Career
Jerry Skinner was born on 19 January 1900 in Melbourne, Australia, before emigrating to New Zealand with his family. His father was a missionary in Te Kopuru, near Hokianga. Skinner settled in the Waitaki District and married Julia Buckley Gray of Palmerston North in 1924. They had two sons together, who later went into business in Westport together. Skinner worked as a carpenter and a farmer, and became a union leader and a co-operative medical insurance advocate in Westport.
Skinner joined the New Zealand Army in 1939, and served in the Middle East during World War II. He rose to the rank of major, and was awarded the Military Cross in 1943 for mine clearing during the First Battle of El Alamein. He was also wounded in action and mentioned in dispatches. He returned to New Zealand in 1943, and resumed his political career.
Political Career and Achievements
Skinner was elected to parliament in 1938, representing the Motueka electorate. He switched to the Buller electorate in 1946, and held it until his death. He was a loyal supporter of the Labour party, and a close ally of Peter Fraser and Walter Nash. He was appointed as the minister of lands in 1943, and held the portfolio until 1949. He was responsible for implementing land reforms, such as the Land Development Encouragement Act 1946, which provided loans and subsidies for land development and settlement.
Skinner became the minister of agriculture in 1957, when Labour returned to power under Nash. He also became the deputy prime minister, the third person to hold the position in New Zealand history. He was involved in negotiating trade agreements with Britain and Australia, and promoting agricultural diversification and research. He also supported the introduction of the Social Security Amendment Act 1958, which increased pensions and benefits.
Death and Legacy
Skinner suffered a heart attack in 1956, but recovered and continued his duties. However, his health deteriorated again in 1962, and he died on 26 April, while visiting his farm in Tākaka. He was buried in Orowaiti Cemetery in Westport, with full military and state honors. He was survived by his second wife, Lois Mehaffey, whom he married in 1958, after his first wife died in 1957.
Skinner was widely respected and admired for his service and sacrifice, both in war and in politics. He was described as a man of integrity, courage, and compassion, who dedicated his life to the welfare of his country and his constituents. He was also praised for his achievements in land and agricultural development, and his contribution to the Labour movement. He is remembered as one of the most influential and effective deputy prime ministers of New Zealand.