Gwynne Lynette Skinner

Gwynne Skinner (’06) graduated with an MSt in International Human Rights Law in 2008. Below is a tribute from Gwynne’s wife, Dr Beth Skrypzak.


Gwynne Skinner was born in Des Moines, Iowa, July 17, 1964, and died December 11, 2017, from complications of ovarian cancer, with which she lived with dignity for nearly five years. Gwynne spent most of her childhood in Colfax, Iowa. She especially enjoyed spending time with her siblings, cousins, and at her grandparents’ acreage on the edge of town, eating homemade ice cream and fresh watermelon, feeding lambs by the bottle, and playing with her cousins. Her father was a music teacher, and then a school administrator, moving the family to several small towns in Iowa, including Shelby, Melvin, and Sac City, from where she graduated high school. She went on to study at the University of Northern Iowa, where she was executive editor of the college newspaper, and then to the University of Iowa where she earned her law degree.

Gwynne spent time working in politics as a paid staffer for the Iowa Democratic Party, the presidential campaign of Bruce Babbitt, and on senate and congressional campaigns. Her first job out of law school was with the U.S. Dept. of Justice, Criminal Division, in Washington, D.C. She went on to practise as a local prosecutor, and then with various private practice firms. She founded the Public Interest Law Group in Seattle, Washington. After receiving an advanced law degree from Oxford University in International Human Rights Law, Gwynne became a visiting professor of law at Seattle University before joining the law faculty of Willamette University, where she founded and directed the Human Rights and Refugee Law Clinic. Over her career, Gwynne litigated several high profile cases, representing former Guantanamo Bay detainees in cutting-edge civil cases for their illegal detention and torture, the family of Rachel Corrie against Caterpillar for aiding and abetting human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and a class of Somali workers against a large sausage company for religious accommodation, among others. She also took the quiet cases that made a difference in people’s lives, such as representing those seeking asylum or facing discrimination. Gwynne loved being a professor and teaching and inspiring a new generation of lawyers how to advocate for the human rights of all.

Gwynne was a steadfast, loyal, and generous friend and mentor to many. She was an excellent, compassionate listener and counselor. As a colleague and leader, she inspired countless professionals and students who hope to carry on her brave legacy. Her advocacy was not only courageous, but visionary. She initiated and co-directed the first state-wide human rights report on human trafficking in the United States, which led to a follow-up report on trafficking of Native American women and children in Oregon. Her tenacity, bright spirit, keen intellect, passion, and loving attention will be sorely missed by all who knew her.

For details of the funeral service on 13 January 2018 and how to make a donation in Gwynne’s memory, please click to visit Gwynne’s page at Holman’s.