But more important, according to friends, was the example Tom Coleman set in performing civic service with a generous heart.
Coleman died Sunday at Regional Medical Center, according to a friend of the family.
He was active in the business and civic affairs of Anniston throughout his working life. The Anniston YMCA, First United Methodist Church, the Boy Scouts, the Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce all benefited from Coleman’s leadership.
“He was such a nice guy. People just liked him, and that has a lot to do with management. If people like you, they’ll work harder for you,” said retired Anniston banker Joel Carter.
“One of the finest gentlemen I’ve ever known,” is how he’s described by Lewis Snider, a fellow graduate of the Anniston High School Class of ’45. “Just a beautiful person. Everybody was somebody to Tom.”
Anniston attorney Ed Isom called him “the very soul of goodwill and optimism. Anniston has lost a civic leader of the highest caliber,” while lifelong friend Joby Walker remembered a road trip across the South he and Coleman took in 1950.
“He was a young man of integrity, honesty and determination. It was a real honor to know him and I’m just gong to miss him so much,” Walker said.
It was soon after that road trip that Coleman came back home and entered the family business of managing Anniston movie theaters. The Ritz, the Midway and the Bama, the latter two drive-ins, were his properties. By the early 1980s, he was out of that business.
“You’d work yourself to death and film companies would make all the profits,” Coleman said in 1996.
He was employed by Anniston Federal Savings and Loan Association as vice president in 1973 and elected president of the association in 1975.
During his tenure there, the institution was known for conservative policies and maintaining a healthy capital-to-assets ratio which helped it weather the storm that buffeted savings and loans nationally.
“You could certainly give him credit for that aspect of it,” said Carter, who followed Coleman in 1990 as president of the savings and loan, which changed its name in August of that year to United Savings Bank. “It was not impacted as dramatically as other S&Ls were.”
Coleman was also on the board of Anniston Housing Authority for about a decade, during which time he served as its chairman. He fulfilled his duties conscientiously, aware that as a public body serving the poor, scrutiny would be great.
He was especially bothered when audits of the housing authority turned up even minor problems.
“I’m just not comfortable being chastised this way,” Coleman said after one such audit in 1987. “It doesn’t speak well for you or us.”
In his youth in Anniston, Coleman was one of Coach E. D. Lott’s boys, playing for the legendary Anniston High football coach in 1943-44. He remained a loyal Bulldog, often attending “old guard” reunions; one of his last social engagements was with the class, a July 28 luncheon he put together at Anniston Country Club.
At such functions he was able to display an impish sense of humor.
“I want to clear up a misconception,” he said at an alumni gathering in 2005. “There’s rumor going around that with the atomic bomb Japan surrendered; but they really heard that we were coming, and that’s why they surrendered.”
Coleman was an active member of the Quarterback Club, co-chairing the scholarship committee with Carter. There, he helped evaluate candidates for $5,000 scholarships to college. Carter said a candidate’s community involvement was always important to Coleman.
“That seemed always to attract Tom,” he said.
Lifelong friend Betty Carr remembered that involvement with the YMCA, where in recent years Coleman continued to exercise on the gym’s walking track.
“He was on the board when the Y did everything,” she said, recalling that he chaperoned youth trips with his wife while their three children were growing up in the organization. He also helped the Y staff get through the sudden death of a popular executive director in 1982, Carr said.
“That was his attitude about everything. Everything I’ve known Tom Coleman to do … he was a very positive influence in everybody’s life that he touched.”
Carr attributed that to his moral and spiritual foundation.
“He very much advocated the Christian life, following the teachings of Jesus.”