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Public Notices

April 19, 2014

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Nat Coleman Jr.

Published: 08/15/2012

Nat Coleman Jr.

Died: Aug. 13, 2012

Nathaniel Ragsdale Coleman Jr. died peacefully Monday at his home in Greeneville. He was 89.

Born Nov. 9, 1922, in Hamburg, Germany, he was the elder son of N.R. Coleman Sr., a Virginia tobacco merchant who had established a brokerage business in Europe following his service in the U.S. Army after World War I, and London-born Frances Esders Coleman, a successful lyric soprano singing leading roles with the Dresden Opera in the 1930s.

In 1928, Nat was placed in the charge of Sgt. Major Whittaker Swinton, founder and headmaster of the Rocklands Preparatory School near Hastings, England. In 1933, he was enrolled in The Abbotsholme School on the Derbyshire/Staffordshire borders.

In 1936, joined by his parents and younger brother, Nat attended the historic 1936 Summer Olympic Games in Berlin. He would later recall the feeling of pride and patriotism sitting with the other American families, in the shadow of Hitler's viewing box, enthusiastically cheering for the United States. Particularly thrilling was seeing the great Jesse Owens win four gold medals.

The summers of his youth were spent in the U.S., after traveling by rail to the port of Southampton in England and boarding one of the grand transatlantic ocean liners of the Hamburg American Line for passage to New York.

From New York he would then travel by rail to his family's summer home at Ware Neck, Gloucester County, Va.

After nine-and-one-half months of boarding school, he could do what other boys could do. For Nat, this meant being on a boat in or out of the water: time that fostered a lifelong passion for sailing, especially on the Chesapeake Bay.

Germany's invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, precluded Nat from returning to England that year. Still just 15, he was accepted at the College of William and Mary.

He was selected as an aide to the president, was a member of the varsity tennis team, and served as president of Kappa Alpha fraternity before receiving his bachelor of arts degree in 1943.

Nat had enlisted in the Naval Reserve, and entered midshipmen's school in Chicago immediately after his college graduation. He was graduated and commissioned as an ensign in October 1943.

During World War II, he served on the (DE) USS James E. Craig in the Pacific and later commanded an AVR, which was designed to launch and fly radio-controlled drones. The drones were used for gunnery practice by the fleet, which at that time was experiencing serious attacks by Japanese suicide bombers.

He was discharged from the active Naval Reserve in May 1946 and entered the law school at the University of Virginia in September, receiving his LLB degree in February 1948.

He soon left for Salonika, Greece, to work for Tobacco Merchants Corp., but the Greek civil war made it nearly impossible to conduct business. After a couple of months, he returned to the U.S.

Nat had met Clyde B. Austin, owner of The Austin Company, of Greeneville, in 1947. Mr. Austin had encouraged him to locate and establish a law practice in Greeneville.

Nat "found" Greeneville in the summer of 1948, and within a couple of months after his arrival, he joined with the esteemed S.J. Milligan in founding Milligan and Coleman.

Nat was licensed to practice law in Virginia and Tennessee and was admitted to practice in the trial and appellate courts of those states, as well as the federal courts in Eastern Tennessee and Western Virginia.

In the early 1950s, he was significantly involved in the establishment of Link Hills Country Club in the early 1950s.

Among other roles he played in that process, he and fellow Greenevillian Wylie Milligan persuaded famed international golf course designer Robert Trent Jones to design the course at Link Hills.

Nat also served as the second president of the club.

In 1955, he, along with Dr. Kurt A. Korber, founded Hauni Richmond, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Korber Maschinenbau (now Hauni Maschinenbau, AG, of Hamburg, Germany), a world-wide leader in paper-processing machinery.

He served as general counsel of the company for many years and was a member of its board of directors until his retirement in 2004.

Nat was elected as a director of First National Bank of Greeneville in 1964 and later served as chairman for a number of years. He was appointed to the trust board of Commerce Union Bank in Nashville (later Nationsbank and the Bank of America), and then elected to its board of directors, where he served until 1993, having reached the mandatory retirement age.

Nat was admitted to practice in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in 1982 and was admitted to practice in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1989.

He was appointed as a delegate to the Judicial Conference of the Sixth Circuit by the Honorable Thomas G. Hull in 1989, and selected for life membership in the conference in 1989.

By appointment of Judge Hull, he was chairman of the Committee for Admission to Practice in the U.S. District Court for the Northeastern District of Tennessee, Greeneville division, until his retirement in 1998.

He was inducted as a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers in 1980 and as a fellow in the Tennessee Bar Foundation and the American Bar Foundation, where he became a life member in 1988.

He retired from the active practice of law in 1998 after having practiced 50 years.

Nat and his wife, Mary Jane, purchased a second home on the Elizabeth River at Norfolk, Va., and a retirement boat, "Moonshine III."

After a couple of wonderful years, this life was cut short after Mary Jane suffered a massive stroke. Nat brought Mary Jane back to Greeneville and devoted the next 10 years to her care.

A "cradle Episcopalian," he proudly traced his Coleman and Page family roots to the late 1600s, and the Gloucester County, Abingdon, and Ware Episcopal churches where many of his ancestors were laid to rest.

He started serving on the vestry at St. James Episcopal Church shortly after his arrival in Greeneville. His deep devotion was very evident in all of his 63 years in the service of his church.

Mr. Coleman loved Greeneville and Greene County. His personal and professional life enriched the lives of many of its citizens.

He especially loved his "Creekside Farm" with its majestic view of the Unaka Mountains. As he would often say, "the only 'home' I ever had."

His forceful courtroom demeanor was legendary among his colleagues, but Nat was a very gregarious, generous and kind man. He made lifelong gifts to education and the fine arts.

And last, but not least, he held a soft spot in his heart for the Abbotsholmian Club of which he was one of the last "old boys" who "left" in '39.

In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by his brother, John Ery Coleman of Bel Air, Calif., and sister-in-law, Jennifer Howard Coleman, in 1993; and his college sweetheart and wife of 66 years, Mary Jane Riddick Coleman, in 2010.

Surviving are two daughters: Caroline Nash Coleman Cornett and husband, Marc, of Kingsport, and Jane Page Coleman of Albuquerque, N.M.; two grandsons: William Coleman Gourley and wife, Abby, and Hunter Riddick Paris and fiancée, Jill Bible; and two great-grandsons: Nathaniel Carey Gourley and Samuel Coleman Gourley, all of Greeneville.

The family gratefully acknowledges the loving care given by Carolyn Dickenson, Dale Fann, Cody Fann, Marsha Burgess, and Geraldine Weems.

The family also wishes to express their appreciation and respect for the love, devotion, and loyalty of longtime dear friend, Mrs. June Brown.

A private graveside service with military honors will be held later this week at Andrew Johnson National Cemetery.

Honorary pallbearers will be his law partners at the time of his retirement: G.P. Gaby, Thomas L. Kilday, Ronald W. Woods, Thomas J. Garland, and Jeffrey M. Ward; and Tom Austin, Wylie Milligan, Warren Snead, Thad Crapster, Ulrich Vosswinkel, Gary Naigle, and Dr. Thomas Beckner.

A service to celebrate the life of Mr. Coleman will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. James Episcopal Church. The Rev. Carolyn Isley will officiate.

Following the service, there will be a luncheon reception at the church's adjacent McMillan Hall.

Memorial contributions may be made to St. James Episcopal Church, 107 W. Church St., Greeneville, TN 37743.

Kiser-Rose Hill Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

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