Nereida Skelton, a talented and hardworking teacher in Sacramento for 33 years, died Friday in Sutter General Hospital from complications of bone marrow cancer, said her husband, George Skelton. She was 68.
Mrs. Skelton taught at McClatchy and Kennedy high schools, coaching debate and speech, and advising the student newspaper.
"McClatchy's newspapers had articles every bit as competitive as some small towns'," said Rogierre Wilcox, who had known Mrs. Skelton since the 1960s, when both were young teachers.
Mrs. Skelton would put in long hours with debate teams, help students out of her own pocket, travel out of town for weekend tournaments coping with student antics only to return to the classroom the next day, Wilcox said.
When Mrs. Skelton became adviser for "The Prospector" at McClatchy, she was there until 10 p.m. many times.
"She did above and beyond," said Jean Ryan, her best friend and another teacher.
One star pupil, Matea Gold, has gone on to write for the Los Angeles Times, and is now in the Washington, D.C., Bureau for Tribune Media.
Mrs. Skelton's help wasn't limited to student writers.
Her husband, a 51-year veteran of the L.A. Times who now writes a political column, also relied on her counsel.
"She was my secret editor," he said. "Hardly a column would go into the paper without her reading it first and offering no-BS advice."
Nereida Lynn Coulter was born in Milwaukee and moved with her family to Phoenix when she was a teen.
The family lived in a small house behind her father's A&W drive-in.
"Whenever a bunch of high school kids would show up after a game, an alarm would sound and it was all hands on deck for the family, and laced-up skates for Nereida," her husband said.
After graduating from the University of Arizona, she came to Sacramento to "flee the desert," her husband said.
She was introduced to George Skelton by a fellow teacher, Jean Ryan's late husband, and the pair married at the Ryans' home in 1974.
The couple moved several times because of George Skelton's job, always returning to Sacramento.
Among friends, she was known not only for the strength of her teaching, but her strength in the face of multiple illnesses and the strength of her political observations.
She was the first in her group to recognize Barack Obama's potential, "when the others of us were still looking over the field," said Wilcox."
Her last political act was casting a ballot for Proposition 29, the tobacco tax initiative, from her hospital bed, where she also reviewed one of her husband's columns, he said.
Mrs. Skelton had battled numerous illnesses, but would be the first to visit a friend who was sick, Wilcox said.
"She met every challenge with optimism," Wilcox said.
"I called her the Comeback Kid," said Ryan, describing how she'd rallied from previous illnesses.
This time, she'd gone into the hospital to prepare for a marrow transplant. Medications given to counter side effects of chemotherapy are believed to have caused liver damage, which led to a heart attack and virtual shutdown of her vital organs, her husband said.
She died surrounded by her husband, stepdaughters and their husbands.
"Those of us who knew her well, we all feel blessed," Wilcox said.