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Beth Skillern balances life, work and play

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Articles - March 2013
Monday, February 25, 2013


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Beth Skillern (center), taking her daily walk with Marilyn Karr (left) and Kathy Elliott. 
// Photo by Sierra Breshears

Former middle school teacher Beth Skillern decided to make a dramatic career change and attend law school when her eldest daughter started kindergarten in 1983. “At that time I only had an idea in my head of what a lawyer actually did,” says Skillern, who is 68. She began working at the Portland-based law firm Bullivant Houser Bailey in 1987. She became firm general counsel in 2005 and managing shareholder in 2009. After working primarily in insurance coverage for nearly 20 years, she enjoyed the transition to management. “It’s satisfying to resolve issues,” she says. “That’s what law is: solving other people’s problems.” She has two grown daughters; one lives in San Diego and one remains in the Portland area with Skillern’s two grandchildren.

Schoolgirl: “I got my teaching degree because that’s what women did back then. They went to school to be teachers or nurses. No one in my family had even gone to college before me. I liked teaching and I liked my subjects, which were history and English, but in the back of my mind there was always an interest in law. So I just decided to go to law school to become a lawyer.”

On the job: “When I started at my firm it was very different. I think I was the first woman on the board, but we have many women leaders now. My firm has undergone other huge changes lately: We went from 150 lawyers to about 55 pretty quickly. Weathering that storm has been quite challenging. Once you get through it, though, you realize everything turns out the way it was supposed to be.”

Walk and talk: “I walk every morning with two neighbor friends. One is a retired teacher and the other is a mental health nurse. None of us can remember exactly when it started, but probably around 1982. We’ve only changed the route three times, but we don’t get tired of it since half the year it’s dark. We talk work, children; we’re all pretty positive people, so there’s not a lot of complaining. There’s kind of an unspoken rule against it, actually.”

Bookworm: “I’ve been a member of the same book group for many years; we’re all good friends. Last year I liked reading Mink River and Cutting for Stone. We decide yearly what books we will read. We’ve got some good ones coming up this year. We meet once a month. There’s always a lot to talk about before we even end up actually discussing the book.”

Homebody: “I live in Northeast Portland in the Alameda neighborhood. I’ve lived in the same house for 40 years. I’m not sure if I’ll ever leave, other than feet first. I’d miss my neighbors and neighborhood. I’d like to spend more time with my grandchildren, maybe travel. You reach a certain age where you think you should do it now or you might not have the chance. I have a sister on the East Coast, and we talk about meeting somewhere we haven’t been before.”


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