Alexander F. Gaskins, who rose from an upholsterer to become an interior decorator and owner of his own firm, died April 19 from COVID-19 at Sinai Hospital. The former Ashburton resident, who was living at Lochearn FutureCare, was 79.
“He was a gifted musician, and he knew how to bring out the best in everyone who was around him,” said the Rev. Dellyne I. Hinton, pastor of Gwyn Oak United Methodist Church, where Mr. Gaskins was a longtime active member. “Not only was he a first-rate musician, he had a talent for getting people to do things.”
Alexander Franklin Gaskins, son of Howard Gaskins, a Crown Cork & Seal Co. worker, and his wife, Sidna Gaskins, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore, one of eight siblings. His identical twin, Andrew Samuel Gaskins, a retired vice president of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Maryland, died April 3.
Mr. Gaskins was raised in Cross Keys, which in those days was primarily an African American neighborhood that took its name from an 18th-century inn on Falls Road.
After graduating in 1958 from Frederick Douglass High School, Mr. Gaskins became an upholsterer and in the 1960s apprenticed himself to John Matthews, who taught him interior design.
For years, Mr. Gaskins worked as an interior designer for Don Weber, whose Franklin Street studio, Don Weber Interiors & Antiques, was above Restaurante Tio Pepe. He eventually purchased the business from Mr. Weber and renamed it Interiors by A & A Gaskins.
In 1977, the studio’s work was featured in a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Decorators’ Show House fundraiser at Cedarwood, the 1927 North Charles Street Lawrence Hall Fowler home, which he designed for Alexander E. Duncan, founder of Commercial Credit Corp.
Mr. Gaskins retired in the 1990s.
A deeply religious man, Mr. Gaskins joined his family’s church, Orchard Street Methodist Episcopal Church, at an early age, family members said.
An accomplished organist and pianist, he served as minister of music at the First Baptist Church, Garrison Boulevard United Methodist Church, Emmanuel Community Christian Church, St. Mark’s United Methodist Church and Gwynn Oak United Methodist Church, where he was a member.
Mr. Gaskins was also gifted with a basso profundo voice and occasionally sang with the church choir. “He was also the director of the women’s chorus, men’s chorus and senior choir," Ms. Hinton said.
“He was extremely gifted, and it was a joy to hear him play,” Ms. Hinton said.
Wanda R. Robinson, a Pikesville resident and a friend of 35 years, said, “He did not play by ear but by notes. He was strictly professional.”
Among Mr. Gaskins’ favorite hymns were “Lead Me, Guide Me" and the old spiritual “My Lord, What a Morning,” family members said. “We turned that hymn into a play and we’d perform it in area churches,” Ms. Robinson said.
She said that Mr. Gaskins was her “prayer partner.”
"If we were going through something, we’d pray together. He had formed a deep relationship with God,” the Pikesville resident said.
At his church, Mr. Gaskins was chairman of the history committee. He chaired the Homecoming Committee twice and was a member of the Comfort Committee.
“He was such a dedicated member of our church, and even though he left the city and went to live with his daughter, he still came back frequently as he could to attend meetings as long as his health allowed. He was just so dedicated,” Ms. Hinton said.
“He such such a positive person and never said a negative word about anybody,” she said. “He was just a very, very kind man. He was well-liked at church and was just a sweetie.”
“He was a pillar of the community and he’d transport friends or anybody to where they wanted or needed to go, vacations, to the doctor if they were sick or even New York,” his daughter, Anita Michline Kelly of Silver Spring, wrote in a biographical profile of her father.
The former Egerton Road resident collected mirrors, his daughter said. “He was not a big reader or gardener. He just loved his church.”
Because of the coronavirus pandemic plans for a memorial service are incomplete.
In addition to his daughter, he is survived by a son, Aaron Mark Gaskins of Catonsville; a brother, Thomas Gaskins of Nottingham; four sisters, Ann Carter, Brenda Williams and Pamela DeLoatch, all of Baltimore, and Colleen Cary of West Deptford, New Jersey; four grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews. His marriage to the former Miriam Smith ended in divorce.