'Kind, selfless' Black military vet remembered for giving back to Cape Breton community

The son of a Black military veteran from Cape Breton who died recently says his father was a "kind, selfless person who just wanted to make the world a better place."

The obituary for Lemuel Marcus Skeete said he was surrounded by family members at Ocean View Continuing Care Centre in Dartmouth at the time of passing on Sunday, Nov. 6. His family wrote that Skeete was the last surviving African Nova Scotian veteran of the Second World War.

Skeete was born in Cape Breton on Aug. 13, 1922, and grew up in the Black community of Whitney Pier.

“He was in the military prior to raising a family,” said Skeete’s son, Darcy Skeete, in an interview with the Halifax Examiner. “The war was over in 45, and I'm one of the younger kids, and I wasn’t born until 64.”

Darcy said his father didn’t talk much about his time in the military.

“What little Dad did mention, it's not something he liked to talk about. Any time we brought the topic up he’d say, ‘Oh, don't worry about that,’” Darcy said.

After his military service, Skeete worked with Sydney Steel and then as a mechanic at several local garages.

Skeete then went on to open his own garage, Lem’s Alignment and Brake Shop, in Whitney Pier where he worked until his retirement.

“He prided himself on doing excellent work, and in not taking advantage of people,” Darcy said. “Because in that industry he felt that many people were taken advantage of and he didn't like that idea. So, he opened his own garage so that he can serve people the way he'd like to help them.”

In 1970, Skeete founded the non-profit Whitney Pier Day Care Centre.

“He started a day care program so that women in the community would have a place to work because they weren't able to work otherwise because they had no one to look after their kids,” Darcy said. “The day care center sort of came out of that need.”

According to his obituary, Skeete also served as the executive director of the United Mission where he helped create after-school programs and academic support for children and employment for youth.

He also helped create the Whitney Pier Non-Profit Housing Society, which built 10 affordable homes for members of the Black community in Whitney Pier.

He was one of the first counselors for the Black United Front of Nova Scotia (BUF) in Sydney and was also a member of Nova Scotia’s Black Culture Society.

“He used to drive people to church,” Darcy said. “He used to have a van. We’d pick people up on Sundays and take them to church service.”

Darcy said his father also created a softball league called the Pony League to give opportunities for kids who were unable to play in “the regular baseball leagues.”

“He was all about getting everyone involved, and those that couldn't get involved for financial reasons, or if they didn't have the skill,” Darcy said. “He wanted to put everybody on the same sort of playing field.”

“He brought people together in the community to work together. He liked the idea of people coming together to work together towards a common cause.”

Skeete was predeceased by four siblings and three of his children, daughter Florence, and sons, Jonathan and Melvin.

He is survived by his wife of 72 years, Olga, sons Lemuel and Carlton, sister Beatrice Terry, as well as 14 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren, a great-great-grandchild, and two godchildren.

“He was a kind, selfless person who just wanted to make the world a better place,” Darcy said.

Matthew Byard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Halifax Examiner