Andrew S. Gaskins, former senior vice president of human resources at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland, the first African American appointed to the agency’s executive management team, died April 3 of complications from an infection at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The longtime Butchers Hill resident was 79.
“Andrew brought so many good people together and he was such a great leader. He was both compassionate and caring,” said Harry Fox of Owings Mills, who worked for 45 years for Blue Cross and Blue Shield and retired in 2016 as director of major account sales. “He always offered great assistance and guidance, and was the balance between people and the organization, which was a great marriage.”
“Brother Gaskins was a man for all seasons. He had a great mind and was always such a big help and brought a lot to it. He had a political and social conscience,” said the Rev. Hoffman F. Brown, pastor of Wayland Baptist Church in Northwest Baltimore, where Mr. Gaskins had been a member and worshiped since 2006.
“He also had a strong civic conscience,” said Mr. Brown, a Northwest Baltimore resident. “He had a tremendous heart and spirit, and we’re glad of it.”
Andrew Samuel Gaskins, son of Howard Gaskins, a chauffeur and Crown Cork & Seal worker, and his wife, Sidna Elizabeth Pamilla Jones, a public school crossing guard, was born one of eight siblings in Baltimore and 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 attended Morgan State University before enlisting in the Army in 1963. He was a graduate of the Army’s Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, California, where he studied Bulgarian. Mr. Gaskins , and served as a Bulgarian linguist and editor in Munich in the Army Security Agency until being discharged in 1967.
Mr. Gaskins began his career in 1967 at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland, at its former East Joppa Road headquarters in Towson, as director of personnel, training and development for the company’s 1,200 employees.
In 1969, he was named manager of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield personnel department and in 1979 was promoted to vice president of human resources and vice president of administration.
“He held a variety of positions, most notably senior vice president of human relations, which distinguished him as the first Black American appointed top the executive management team in the company,” his daughter, Julie A. Gaskins of Butchers Hill, wrote in a biographical profile of her father.
“He led, managed, coordinated and directed numerous efforts such as management development, employee compensation and benefits, employee/management relations, organizational/human resources development and corporate planning,” Ms. Gaskins wrote.
Genora L. Redd of Woodlawn was Mr. Gaskins’ secretary for 13 years.
“When you work in human relations, the main issue is confidentiality because you see and know things,” Ms. Redd said. “He respected that I never betrayed him. He was a very fair and friendly person who always got right to the point when he spoke to you but did not chastise or embarrass you. He was well-respected by the employees and was just a good boss.”
Godfrey A. Streat of Atlanta was a director of human resources during Mr. Gaskins’ tenure as vice president of human resources.
“Andrew was an excellent mentor who was always trying to improve the people as well as the organization. He had very high standards,” Mr. Streat said. “He developed his senior staff and was always available to people.”
Mariann J. Umstead credits Mr. Gaskins as being her mentor.
“He was director and later vice president of human resources when I came here. He taught me a lot and was my mentor. He gave me my first management opportunity,” said Ms. Umstead, a Fallston resident who retired from CareFirst Blue Cross and Blue Shield a few years ago as manager of talent acquisition. “I always thought very highly of Andrew. He was all business, but he was also a lot of fun.”
At times, Mr. Gaskins and Ms. Umstead had differences on an issue.
“The receptionist said she could always tell when I was on the floor because she could hear loud voices in Andrew’s office,” she said with a laugh. “But it was always a respectful conversation.”
Before Blue Cross and Blue shield relocated to Owings Mills, Mr. Gaskins dined frequently at the old Hersh’s Orchard Inn on East Joppa Road near his office.
“One time he didn’t go there for two weeks and they called wondering if something was the matter or they had done something wrong,” recalled Ms. Redd, who was a senior executive assistant at the time of her retirement in 2010.
Professional memberships included serving as a board member and president of the Personnel Association of Greater Baltimore, American Society for Training and Development and the Chesapeake Human Resources Association. He was a former co-chair of the Foundation Committee for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland Inc.
Civic-minded, he performed volunteer community services with Maryland New Directions Inc. where he was a board member for many years and served as board president. Other organizations that benefited from his expertise were Blind Industries and Services of Maryland Inc., where he volunteered for years and chaired its personnel and policy committee.
He was a former co-chair of the Baltimore chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and was a member of STEP Inc., Action for the Homeless. He was a member of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Maryland Inc.
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A year before he retired, he was asked by a former pastor to assist the church by providing administrative support in mobilizing and organizing houses of worship, community organizations and neighbors to confront the social ills of the Garrison Boulevard corridor, which became known as Project Garrison. At its founding, he was elected president of its board.
Before joining Wayland Baptist Church, Mr. Gaskins was a member and held leadership positions at Mount Zion United Methodist Church and Garrison Boulevard United Methodist Church, and assisted with the church’s merger with three other congregations.
At Wayland, he was an adult teacher in the Bible class and assisted in the organization of the Resurrection Adult Assembly. He was an active participant in the church’s soup kitchen ministry and the Nehemiah Project Ministry. He was Wayland’s 2014 honoree at the 77th annual awards banquet and fellowship presented by the Maryland Baptist Convention of Christian Education.
His life partner of 30 years, Ulysses Cawthon, died in 2010.
In addition to his daughter, he is survived by a son, Andrew S. Gaskins II of Cockeysville; a brother, Thomas Gaskins of Nottingham; four sisters, Brenda Williams, Ann Carter and Pamela DeLoatch, all of Baltimore, and Colleen Cary of West Deptford, New Jersey; and a grandson. His marriage to the former Dorothy Bennett ended in divorce.