Dick Edward “Skip” Coburn, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who worked for the past 12 years as executive director of the D.C. Nightlife Association where he’s credited with improving relations between bar and nightclub owners and regulators who oversee the city’s booming nightlife businesses, died March 18 at Howard University Hospital. He was 70.
His close friend Marge Francese said the cause of death was complications associated with double pneumonia.
“It is a loss for the city,” said Francese. “He would help anyone in the world. There was nobody I knew who would help so many people.”
Frederick Harwood, founder and president of the D.C. Nightlife Association, said Coburn’s desire to help people and the city he loved prompted him to bring about dramatic change for the better in the way bars and nightclubs interact with the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, D.C. police, and citizens who live near nightlife businesses.
“It’s a devastating loss for nightlife in Washington,” Harwood said. “He was such an advocate, and an advocate in the best sense that he developed relationships on both sides. He was a neighborhood activist.”
“He went out of his way to develop a relationship with the chief of police, with many of the police commanders, with the Fire Department, and with the building inspectors,” Harwood said. “He was so dedicated to his job. People understood how committed he was to nightlife.”
Added Harwood: “The whole atmosphere has changed because of the work that Skip did to bring the regulatory authorities and the police and the owners together to understand each other’s needs.”
Coburn, who identified as bisexual, was born in Richmond, Va., but grew up on military bases in the U.S. and Europe as the child of a military family, Francese said.
A resume Coburn prepared shortly before his death says he graduated from the Paris-American High School in Paris in 1964 and received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Colorado in 1967.
The resume says he entered the U.S. Air Force in 1967 as a commissioned second lieutenant and was stationed in multiple locations in the U.S., Europe, and Asia until the time of his retirement in 1990 as a lieutenant colonel.
A biographical write-up of his military career says he flew airborne reconnaissance missions during the Vietnam War, served as an instructor and manager at the Defense Intelligence College at Bolling Air Force Base in D.C., and later was assigned to the Pentagon.
After retiring from active duty service Coburn served as a civilian operations officer for the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Squadron at Bolling Air Force Base from 1990 to 1998, his career write-up says.
Francese said Coburn joined the staff of then-D.C. Councilmember Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 8) in 1998, where he served as a researcher until the time of Ambrose’s retirement in 2002.
Harwood said Coburn’s impact on the city’s nightlife scene began shortly after he started in his job as executive director of the D.C. Nightlife Association in 2002. Others who knew Coburn said he provided important advice and assistance to the city’s gay bars and nightclubs on regulatory matters.
“The Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration was deeply saddened to learn of the loss of Skip Coburn,” said ABRA Director Fred Moosally in a statement to the Washington Blade. “Skip was passionate about nightlife issues in the District. He played a significant role in representing the nightlife community before the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and was dedicated to helping promote public safety in the District.”
Local nightlife advocate and business columnist Mark Lee called Coburn a “tireless and dedicated advocate” for D.C. nightlife as well as for community businesses.
“As the hospitality industry became even more important to the economic and development success of D.C. and enjoyed growing support from both longtime residents and new arrivals, he helped city officials understand how critical it is to create a better business environment,” Lee said.
Francese said Coburn’s brother, Dale Coburn, arranged for Skip Coburn’s remains to be cremated, with his ashes to be interred at his parents’ gravesite in Orcus Island off the coast of Washington State.
A Requiem Mass for Coburn has been scheduled to be held 11:00 a.m. Saturday, May 2, at St. Mary Mother of God Roman Catholic Church, 727 5th St., N.W., Washington, D.C.