McAlister Coleman died on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015, just one month after reaching his 83rd birthday on Jan 31.
“Mac,” as he was best known, had been a Manchester resident since 1969, when he moved to town to begin a 30-year teaching career at Endicott College. That same year, he and his spouse, Margaret “Peggy” (Dyer) Coleman, became the parents of Maya Coleman, a Manchester High School graduate and now a child psychologist in private practice in the Washington, D.C., area.
Born Jan. 28, 1932, Mac was the son of parents whose commitment to social change shaped his own values, in which good questions rather than answers were his most important guides. His father, McAlister Coleman, was a well-known Socialist Party activist whose defense of the rights of West Virginia coal miners to organize had a great impact on his son. Mac’s mother, Dr. Ruth Fox, was a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, and a pioneer in the treatment of alcoholism in the United States. Dr. Fox was a founding member of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), and was instrumental in shaping society’s understanding of alcoholism as a disease.
Mac’s early life was spent with his parents in New York City, Radburn, N.J., and Martha’s Vineyard. He also spent significant periods of time with his beloved cousins in East Falls Church, Va. Mac graduated from the Oakwood Friends School in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in 1950 and went on to Bard College, graduating in 1954. As a Quaker whose value of pacifism remained important to him for his entire life, Mac registered as a conscientious objector after graduation, and served in New York City and Chicago. He later received a Master of Fine Arts from the Columbia University School of Painting and Sculpture and a Masters of Teaching from the Columbia University Teachers College in New York City.
Mac met Peggy at Columbia Teachers College. They married in 1962, and moved together to teach at the Northfield–Mount Hermon Schools in 1964. They each founded and taught in their respective departments at the schools, Mac in the art department and Peggy in the Russian department.
During his tenure at Endicott, Mac created a series of large-scale welded steel pieces titled “Western Totems,” in which he used mathematical equations to express important relationships. One piece, “Being Included Is Not the Same as Belonging,” is exhibited on campus. His last welded steel piece, “Three Russian Dancers,” was recently returned from Martha’s Vineyard to his home on Friend Street. This piece combines the themes of the couple’s professions, and was inspired in part by Peggy’s longtime work as the director of the Russian-American Cultural Center in Boston. Later in his career he worked primarily in granite, and spent one memorable summer teaching his daughter how to carve smaller-scale pieces.
Mac is survived by his wife of 53 years, Margaret “Peggy” (Dyer) Coleman; his daughter, Maya Coleman, and Maya’s spouse, Professor Binny Miller of the Washington College of Law at American University; and his 9-year-old granddaughter, Moxie Coleman-Miller. He is survived by a niece, Katy Allen of California, and many other nieces and nephews from his wife’s nine siblings. He was preceded in death by his sister, Ann Allen of West Tisbury. Burial will be in Chilmark in the spring. Please do not send flowers; a gesture of support in his name to a friend in need or a family in need is the suggested way of honoring Mac’s life.
A memorial service will be held at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, 225 Cabot Street in Beverly, on Saturday, April 18, at 11 am, followed by a light lunch at the church. Information, directions, condolences at campbellfuneral.com.