Only after a few days of shock and disbelief are there words to write about Larry Coleman’s gift to the Northwest Ohio Peace Coalition (NWOPC) in Toledo, OH. We first learned of Larry’s sudden death shortly after leaving a protest of the possible attacks on Syria ““ a protest where Larry and Betty would have been if they still lived in Toledo. Our peace group was fortunate to have borrowed them from OREPA for the 9 or so years that they lived in Toledo, after Larry agreed to a position as the endowed chair for gifted education at the University of Toledo.
As Ralph wrote about OREPA’s first encounter with Larry, for many of us in Toledo, our first introduction to the Colemans also came by way of Betty. Betty sat through several days of testimony at a trial for a few of us who were arrested on March 17, 2003 during a protest of the invasion of Iraq. Fortunately we had an inexperienced judge (his first jury trial) and he let those of us arrested speak at length of our reasons for protesting the war, and Betty was sitting in the courtroom through it all.
Soon Larry seemed to be present, at most every event and work “party” throughout those years, whether it was the regular gathering each Sunday in protest of Iraq, and then Afghanistan; protesting the continued funding of the wars; or the annual Mother’s Day protest of war. The list could go on and on.
A primary project of NWOPC through the Coleman years was the creation of Arlington Midwest, a traveling exhibit of tombstones created to provide a visual display of the cost of war and to honor the fallen U.S. service members of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Each tombstone was created by hand, primarily of recycled materials and maintained by a volunteer workforce, of which Betty and Larry were central participants from the beginning. I have visions of Larry at each of many locations, helping with the set-ups as the numbers of dead rose into the thousands.
Larry and Betty often spoke of how difficult a decision it was to move back to Ohio after the trauma of being at Kent State when the Ohio National Guard opened fire, killing and wounding students. When the NWOPC was allowed to erect our display of Arlington Midwest at Kent State for the 36th commemoration of the massacre, Larry stood at the bottom of the hill, where we were sweating and cursing as we tried to put tombstones in the hard ground, and described the day to us from his vantage point, as he was walking across the far edge of the field. The horror and shock had never left him.
Larry had a gentle way of pitching in with the work while never feeling a need to be one of the decision-makers ““ something we could all learn to model. I’m sure we all have many personal memories of Larry. Larry and I were arrested together a couple of times, and I remember his waiting for me in the jail’s “reception” room until about 2 a.m. one morning when I had been arrested by myself at an action
One of my favorite memories of Larry was at the dedication of a statue of James Rhodes, the governor of Ohio who ordered the soldiers to shoot that day at Kent State. In January of 2010, the statue was being dedicated at the government building in downtown Toledo. As the statue had been forged by students and faculty at the University of Toledo, the University president, Larry’s boss, was at the dedication to say a few words, while we were there with our protest signs. As the university president walked away, Larry, in a loud and clear voice above the crowd, said, “Dr. Johnson, you should not be here.”
Just as Betty and Larry loved being part of our actions, we loved them. Larry with his infectious and often devilishly humorous smile, along with Betty, would envelope you quickly in his savvy and warmth and abiding humor. They were, and are, the embodiment of living, through their deeds, the change this country so desperately needs.
Writing these words, it does not seem possible that Larry is no longer present in the many activities that he and Betty so loved doing. He was already missed greatly in Toledo, and so very much more now.