Published On: Fri, Jul 28th, 2017

Skip Sheffield: a Legend in the Arts Community in Palm Beach County

By: C. Ron Allen

Skip Sheffield, a major voice in Palm Beach County entertainment coverage for nearly five decades, died in his sleep on July 20. He was 69, and most recently served as the entertainment writer for The Boca Raton Tribune.

While it is The Boca Raton Tribune’s policy to use the courtesy title of Mr. when referring to the deceased in obituaries, I solicit your permission to break tradition and use his beloved name, “Skip.”

During his long and varied career, Skip started as a paperboy at 13 and worked as a writer and the arts, entertainment and society editor/writer at the now defunct Boca Raton News. He “did a little of everything in his 40 years and two months …, from delivering it, stuffing inserts, managing the engraving department and finally becoming a full-time writer,” according to his LinkedIn profile.

He also wrote steadily for Atlantic Avenue Magazine in Delray Beach since 2009, and in September 2009, one month after the Boca Raton News died, Skip began a blog and was invited to join the staff of the new Boca Raton Tribune. He also was a contributor to Los Angeles-based Realize magazine since 2013.

Born Norman Louis Sheffield on Aug. 29, 1947 in Peterborough, New Hampshire, to Norman Louis Sheffield and Carol Ruth Appenzeller Sheffield, he was nicknamed Skip because “he didn’t like the name Norman,” his brother John Sheffield said.

Skip, at 6-years-old, developed his love for the arts at the Ritz Theatre in Spring Lake, New Jersey, John Sheffield said.

“He used to live upstairs and he would go downstairs and watch the films ever since he was a child,” he said.

Skip befriended the projectionist and became his go-fer for cigarettes and milkshakes, according to published reports. In exchange, he learned the mechanics of projection, splicing, carbon arc replacement and so forth.

A big break came for Skip the following summer when, with the help of an 11-year-old rich boy, he collaborated on his first 16 mm film.

His sister Sheila Sheffield Platt recalled when the family moved to Fort Lauderdale in 1955, Skip’s appetite for film was fueled by the four movie theaters downtown. Over the next five years, he and his younger brother Richard would regularly ride the city bus to the movie palaces. He even took the Greyhound bus when they moved to Boca Raton in 1959.  

After graduating Seacrest High School in 1965, he earned his associates degree from then Palm Beach Junior College. Skip also earned his bachelor’s degree from Florida Southern and his masters in English Literature from Florida Atlantic University.

Skip developed an acting bug as well, and met with some success in college. He did not have the hard shell necessary to survive that ego-crushing business. Nevertheless, at 15, he found a side calling in music.

He tried teaching but after holding a full-time job while pursuing his master’s, he soon realized the academic life was not for him. So he convinced the managing editor of the Boca Raton News to let him do freelance theater reviews.

When I joined the team at the Boca Raton Tribune, I was excited because I thought – finally I would have the opportunity to work next to a legend. However, he wrote his stories from home and very rarely would our paths crossed in the newsroom. In fact, I saw him more at events in the community than I saw him at work.

Throughout the years my respect for Skip soared. He covered the entertainment beat like no other and turned out copy like crazy. This man worked harder than anybody I knew —writing at various times about movies, popular music, clubs and opera.  

Christine Ledbetter, senior arts editor at the Washington Post, worked with Skip from 1981 to 1989 at what she called one of the finest small newspapers in the country.

“As an entertainment writer, Skip knew everyone in the arts community in Palm Beach County and was even then a legend in Boca Raton,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “He was always old-school, reflecting a classic South Florida. If he were to be depicted in a movie, it would need to be a film noir.”

Ledbetter recalls his “wife and three blond daughters would visit him sometimes at work. They would all four be decked out in Laura Ashley-style dresses; a parade of sunshine walking into the newsroom,” she wrote.

Along with brothers, John, Richard, David and sister, Sheila, Skip leaves behind his three daughters; Mary, Laura and Ana, and a grandson.

A memorial service will be held on Aug. 26 at 11 a.m. at First United Methodist Church, 625 NE Mizner Blvd., Boca Raton.

The family was planning on celebrating his 70th birthday on Aug. 27 at Flanigan’s Seafood Bar and Grill in Boca Raton, so the Sheffield brothers will continue to play tribute to him, Sheila said.

Skip, the entertainment world of South Florida will never be the same without you. You will be missed and your talent will not be forgotten. You have had many inspiring traits and my deep respect. Rest peacefully, our friend and colleague.

C. Ron Allen can be reached at [email protected] or 561-665-0151.

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