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Skip Harvey, Mammoth councilman, restaurateur and ski instructor, dies at 60

July 17, 2012

Skip Harvey on June 6, holding a plaque of recognition for two four-year terms on the Mammoth Town Council and two one-year terms as mayor. Photo/George Shirk

Skip Harvey, a two-term Mammoth Lakes town councilman and mayor, ski instructor at Mammoth Mountain and restaurateur, died early Monday, according to town public information officer Stuart Brown.

"Mayor Harvey had been battling cancer for several years," Brown wrote in a press release Monday evening.

"Family members and close friends were with Skip at the time of his passing."

Police Chief Dan Watson delivered the news to members of the Town Council, and others.

Watson said Harvey "took a turn for the worse" over the weekend, and was receiving hospice care at his home in Mammoth when he died.

"This is a sad day for Mammoth," Watson said. "He was a good guy. He never took any position that he felt was not to the benefit of our community here in Mammoth Lakes."

The Town of Mammoth Lakes will provide information regarding the funeral arrangements as they are made available by the family, Brown said.

Harvey stepped down from the council in June after serving eight years and two terms as Mayor on the Mammoth Lakes Town Council. He had intended to run for re-election, but withdrew his nomination papers, saying at the time, "I just want to go back to being Skip."

The owner of the Base Camp Café on Main Street, Harvey also was an accomplished athlete, and served as a ski instructor and department manager at Mammoth Mountain.

"I'm really heartbroken," said Mammoth Mountain CEO Rusty Gregory, who often joked with Harvey before, during and after council meetings.

"Skip was a good friend, a longtime ski instructor and supervisor at Mammoth Mountain, a great councilman and a great mayor," Gregory said. "He will be sorely missed."

Wrote Brown in the press release:

“The Town Council and staff of the Town of Mammoth Lakes extend their sincere condolences to Skip’s family and friends.”

Rick Wood, who was Mayor at the time Harvey won election to the council, said he got to know him well in the eight years since then.

"What I'll remember most about him was that he was such a decent man," Wood said on Tuesday.

"I've thought about this overnight. A lof good things are said when people pass on, and certainly good things I've read have been said about Skip. He spoke from his heart—always. There was never any guile; never any hidden agenda. What he said is what he believed. And I think that's a wonderful human quality, especially in this day and age."

Harvey, 60, a native Ohioan, moved to Manhattan Beach as a partner in a delicatessen. He established a permanent presence in Mammoth Lakes in the early 1980s. Recently he has suffered from throat cancer, he himself acknowledged. He had been receiving treatment for the illness Southern California, at one point receiving experimental treatments, he said.

Mayor Matthew Lehman spoke for many in his remarks following Harvey’s death.

“I think the one thing I think of when I think of Skip, he was a guy who never, ever really was too influenced by people and I don’t think he ever had a true agenda,” Lehman said. “His focus was strictly the community.

“He thought a lot with his heart but in a very positive way. We disagreed on a lot of things, but at the end of the day, you knew when he was voting, his intentions were always with the community as a whole.

“That was the basis of his decisions. That was unquestionable.”

Gregory, meanwhile, was jolted with the news, saying he did not know the extent of Harvey’s illness.

Town Manager Dave Wilbrecht said he heard the news from Chief Watson early Monday.

"It's really sad," Wilbrecht said. "Skip was a pure gentleman with me. He was always thoughtful and considerate, just one of those kind persons.

"I found him to be someone I had great respect for. He had great integrity and was committed to the town and what the town was all about.

"I just really enjoyed working him. It's just sad to hear. Obviously he was a great contributor to what he felt were important items. He had some important accomplishments, like getting the ice rink going.

"I was delighted to work for him."

In his last appearance before the council, June 6, Harvey made an impassioned speech about his love affair with Mammoth.

“I have to say, I came back up from Santa Monica last Monday. I’m just in awe of the high mountains and the deserts.

“The farther north I come, the better it gets. I can’t help staring at them.

“It is beautiful, and then as I turn up 203 to come up to town, (I slipped in between rainstorms), I could see the beauty of the crest, I could smell the pine. It’s gorgeous, it’s enchanting and it’s beautiful.

“No one, no matter what, can take that it away from us. I love this town. It’s a wonderful place.”

In his last years on the council, Harvey’s voice was the most vocal, the most obstreperous and clamorous, as the town turned downward.

As if on cue, he took on the Forest Service in his last meeting, saying the town should be more involved in forcing the feds to open the restrooms, open the trails and take down the parking blockades in the campgrounds.

That, in turn, sparked a council discussion on the relationship between the town and the Forest Service.

With a chance to run again this year, he first took out nomination papers and then withdrew them.

Harvey himself acknowledged his outsider stance at his last council meeting.

“We don’t always agree on everything,” he said, “so we disagree and move on.”

Harvey paused slightly and continued.

“It has been a pleasure to serve. It’s been good to know that my efforts and work have been appreciated, so thank you all, very, very much.”

It was a moving speech, and members of the audience that night gave Harvey an extended round of applause. He received warm wishes from the council as well.

""I think a lot of people, and maybe it's a male trait, I don't know, are embarrassed to be effusive about the things that they express," Wood said, "and in that last departing speech that he gave, where he was speaking about his love for Mammoth, so many of us who feel that, but not many of us actually say it, and he was never embarrassed to say it. I think that's really a reflection of his attitude."

On Monday, as the social networks such as Facebook and Twitter heated up with remembrances, Gregory acknowledged that Harvey often took a maverick's stance.

"He had his own ideas," Gregory said, "but those came from the relationship and the communication he had with the man in the street—the man and the woman in the street.

"While we didn't always agree, he always had a very sharp point of view, and had his reasoning for backing that up. He was willing to express it and listen to other peoples' perspective as well. He was very unusual that way. He was very open to listening.

"When people pass away, we always say nice things. But with Skip, it's really true."

Lehman said he remembered in particular the time the two first met.

“I first met Skip at a party,” Lehman said. “He’d ridden his motorcycle the whole way. It was just kind of cool.

“He reminded me of a free-spirited guy and I really, really appreciated that about him and always will have the utmost respect for Skip.

“He pushed hard, but in one of his last speeches in made at Town Council, he said hated to leave with all these bad things on the plate and wished he could have done more.

“But my interpretation is that you never really leave council with a clean slate, and he did accomplish a lot. The multi-purpose facility is something he wanted to see it through. It was a good thing at the end of the day.

“He was passionate. Every now and again, once every quarter or a half a year, he would speak and start speaking from the heart, like he does. The logic would go away and he’d speak from the heart.

“That’s when the room would get quiet and people listened to what he had to say.

“A lot people appreciated him for that. Even if people disagreed with him, you had to respect him.

“His heart was in the right place,” Lehman said, “and it was always about Mammoth—the community.”

Wood summarized his thoughts about Harvey by saying,

"He didn't fight this cancer in a way that was, you know, warlike and agggressie. He just slowly but surely, every day, put one foot in front of the other, looked at the treamtment options, got them done, came back, did his business and put a smile on his face. What a great model—a wonderful model.

"I would simply marvel at him, particularly in the last few months, when he was having difficulty swallowing, for example, and I would just give him a couple of words of encouragement, not only because he deserved it, but because he was the one who was encouraging everyone else.

"I have a lot of admiration for him. He was really a decent human being."

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