Lynn Rogers Coleman of Hume died Nov. 13 at the age of 81; he was a prominent lawyer in Washington, D.C., recognized as an energy policy expert in and outside of the federal government. He was general counsel and later, deputy secretary of the Department of Energy.
Coleman’s friends and family gathered virtually and in person for a celebration of his life on Sunday, Dec. 6. Bagpipe music greeted those who attended the remembrance, and a podium was set up with the mountains of Chastain Farm, his family home in Hume, in the background.
After buying the farm in the 1980s, Coleman became very active in local environmental issues.
Chris Miller, president of the Piedmont Environmental Council, said that Coleman “was a longtime supporter and board member of the PEC.” He said, “Lynn had a deep and passionate interest in the issues of energy, the environment and practical solutions to climate change … He guided PEC's efforts before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, in Congress, before the Virginia State Corporation Commission and the Virginia Supreme Court, laying out the case for alternatives to high voltage transmission.”
Miller continued, “A passionate champion of historic preservation and conservation, Lynn fought for the full consideration of the impacts of energy infrastructure on the Piedmont and other conservation resources. Many of the successful reforms of energy policy in Virginia in the past decade have precedents in the work led by Lynn Coleman as a member of the PEC board.
“In recent years, Lynn was a strong voice in favor of the rehabilitation of the Waterloo Bridge, a preferred route from the Hume/Orleans area down to Warrenton. That crossing point had ties to Texas and Hood's Brigade in the Civil War. Coleman had researched the Confederate brigade and believed they must have crossed the Rappahannock near that point.”
In fact, Coleman’s wife, lawyer and advocate Sylvia A. de Leon, said that in researching the movements of Hood’s Brigade, Coleman discovered that his grandfather, William Henry Coleman had come from Texas with the troops and camped on their farm in Hume.
At Sunday’s celebration, Dana Westring of Marshall welcomed visitors with music, recalling how he used to sing around the campfire with Coleman and de Leon. Before Westering led his fellow Hume musicians in “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Westring presented the first image of Coleman: as someone who carried his wisdom lightly, “as if he was carrying it in his back pocket.”
Coleman’s youngest son, William Rogers de Leon Coleman, spoke from Montana, where he said he and his father had hunted elk. He described his father as “a brave man, a lover, but a fierce fighter.”
Coleman’s wife asked Leslie Cockburn to speak about their marriage. New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31, 2020 would have been the Colemans’ 45th anniversary. “They were two forces of nature colliding, the push and pull of brilliant minds and restless spirits,” Cockburn said of the couple.
She said that the Colemans’ relationship reached new levels during the pandemic. Cockburn said that when Coleman was in the hospital, dying from complications of an accident, his doctor told his wife that he was no longer responding to commands to squeeze the doctor’s hand.
When she went into the hospital room, said Cockburn, de Leon asked him to squeeze her hand -- “Show them you can do it,” -- and he squeezed her hand back hard.
The doctor said, “Love is the one thing that never goes.”
Several speakers spoke of Coleman’s brilliance as an attorney. Harry Reasoner said that Coleman grew up in rural Texas, selling Bibles door-to-door as a schoolboy. “… His gravitas, his charm … led me to trust his judgement and delight in his company.”
President Jimmy Carter appointed Coleman general counsel to the Department of Energy. Reasoner said, “He was one of best energy lawyers in the country. Lynn’s contributions were so great, he was made the deputy secretary of the Department of Energy.”
Mike Naeve said he first met Coleman in 1977 and immediately felt a connection. “We both grew up in Texas … we both found ourselves in Washington, working on some of the biggest issues of our times.
“… He helped define energy policy for the Carter administration … If you were on the Hill, dealing with energy, you had to work with Lynn. He was a driving force to get legislation through.”
Naeve agreed with the other speakers of the day that one of Coleman’s gifts was his sense of humor and the capacity to make work fun. “He was as comfortable in his own skin as anyone I’ve ever known.”
Pamela Wilson, a friend of the Coleman children, said, “Lynn judged people by their character, not by their mistakes.”
She recalled as a 7-year-old going to a horse auction at her riding stable with Lynn Coleman, who bought a mare for his farm. Linus, a beloved, old, slow pony came up for sale and Wilson realized that she would never see him again. She started crying and the auctioneer asked Coleman, “Are you going to let that little girl cry?”
He did not. Coleman bought the pony and brought it back to Hume with the mare. “He was my hero. He was a great father to all of us. He had a big heart, a quick wit. He was a hard person not to love. His loss is epic.”
Washington Post foreign policy columnist David Ignatius spoke of Coleman’s laugh as “somewhere between a cackle and a guffaw. He was not a man who complained, ever.”
He said that Coleman “kept his Texas accent longer than Kissinger kept his German accent … He was a rocket ship that launched from the heartland, an American original who changed our country for the better. He was an example of American exceptionalism … Lynn’s motivation was exceptional. He wanted to do good in the world.”
U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) spoke of Coleman’s love of the Virginia countryside. He talked of his efforts to defeat Disney’s America proposal and Dominion’s power line – “It would have cut through the countryside, leaving a blight behind it.”
Whitehouse also remembered Coleman’s efforts to save the Waterloo Bridge. “VDOT wanted to replace it with a concrete slab. But Lynn wanted to protect that little bridge as a memento of rural Virginia…
“He was wise, and he was strategic, but he was fun in a fight. He eagerly brought his skills to bear on the problem.”
Whitehouse said, “Lynn left his mark, it’s in the countryside all around you.”
Longtime friend Jessica Matthews said that Coleman was one of the rare people who are "equally admirable for their intellect, energy and excellence in what they do, and for their gentle, lovable, human qualities."
Several speakers mentioned Coleman’s love of sailing off the coast of Maine. John Estes said, “He was an enthusiastic, if not particularly expert, sailor. He had a talent for running over lobster pots.”
Coleman leaves behind his wife, lawyer and advocate Sylvia de Leon, children Sheridan Coleman Ernstmeyer of Austin, Texas; John Anthony Ross Coleman and his wife Christy Rosenthal Coleman of Taos, New Mexico; Camille de Leon Coleman of Brooklyn New York and Camden, Maine, and retired U.S. Marine Corporal (and current Bureau o fLand Management Wildfire firefighter) William Rogers de Leon Coleman of Bozeman, Montana and Hume Virginia. Coleman was preceded in death in 2012 by son Joseph Clinton de Leon Coleman. Grandchildren are: Kenneth and Michael Ernstmeyer and Grace and Lily Rosenthal. Coleman also leaves behind numerous aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins.
Reach Robin Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org