Coles was one of those guys who everyone seemed to know

November 12, 2006|by MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Nelson Robert Coles, who died Nov. 1 at the age of 48. His obituary appeared in the Nov. 4 edition of The Herald-Mail.

Throughout his life, Nelson Robert Coles made a lot of friends, attracted many admirers and influenced scores of people for the better.

Nelson's family knew the kind of special man he was. But not until after his death Nov. 1 at the age of 48 did they fully appreciate the scope of his positive impact on others.

"Almost a thousand people came to his viewing," said his father, Robert N. Coles Sr., who confessed he and his wife, Martha, didn't know most of them.


Among all those friends from high school, college, work, Little League baseball, youth football and hunting who paid their respects was Robert E. Bruchey II, the mayor of Hagerstown.

"The mayor said he graduated from high school the same year as Nelson, though from different schools," Nelson's father said.

Contacted by telephone, Bruchey said he knew both Nelson and his wife, Tonya. Nelson and Bruchey later coached Little League together.

"Later, our children knew each other," Bruchey said.

Tonya said Nelson and her were high school sweethearts at North Hagerstown High School.

"I was a cheerleader, and he played football," Tonya said. "He was the most wonderful husband and father."

Their only son, Chad, 23, a recent graduate of Salisbury (Md.) State University, is in North Carolina to complete the requirements needed to become a National Park Service law enforcement ranger - a career Chad's father had wanted to pursue himself.

"He was my dad, my coach, my friend," Chad said by telephone from North Carolina. "I'd ditch my buddies to hang out with my dad."

Chad said they talked about everything, especially when out hunting together.

"Many life lessons came to me in those moments," Chad said.

Arlene Harmand, a social worker who worked with the Coles years ago, arranged to have a tree planted in Israel for Nelson.

Nelson's parents came to Washington County in 1969. They were employed then by Volunteers of America, which operated group homes for young people.

Nelson was their youngest son - his twin brother died at birth.

Always proud of Nelson, his parents said they constantly were amazed at the things their son could do.

"Nelson put down the hardwood floors in our house," Martha said. "It was his first time doing that."

He also planted roses all around his parents' yard, built an impressive deck and, just a week before his death, painted their garden shed.

Verna Brown, Nelson's sister, pointed to a large eagle statue and a wooden lighthouse in their parents' yard as other examples of her brother's handiwork.

"One of the last jobs he did was to change the lock on the front door," Verna said, noting he finished that two days before he died.

Martha said she wrote a poem titled "I'll Remember," which was read at Nelson's service by his sister, Charlotte Walkley.

"The last stanza was that his work was done, and now he could spread his wings and fly," Martha said.

Martha said she loved the quiet talks with her son on the deck he built.

"Anything I talked about, he'd record in his mind, and then he would do it to make things easier for me," she said.

Nelson's relationship with his father was equally close, but different in tempo.

Always a quiet and peaceful type, Nelson once deviated from that characteristic while he was a student in Elmira, N.Y., his father recalled.

"Nelson was in elementary school there, and I was called in because of a problem with another kid," Bob said. After learning that Nelson simply was protecting his little sister, Charlotte, Bob said he took his son aside.

"I told him to stand up for himself," Bob said. "Nelson always took after his mother - calm and collected."

Even after Nelson grew into adulthood, married and had a son, he still kept in touch with his youngest boy on a regular basis, his father said.

During his years of driving for UPS, Nelson could expect to get a phone call from his father in the early morning hours while he was on the road.

"I'd always tell him I loved him," Bob said, wondering aloud who he would call now. "My grandson, Chad, told me he would step up to the plate, so I'll call him now."

Nelson's older brother, Bob Jr., said he was happy when Nelson came along, especially after all those sisters.

Despite the nine-year difference in their ages, the two brothers kept in touch, and actually had more contact once both were adults.

"When we got together, I loved being around him," Bob Jr. said by telephone. "Nelson was our rock."

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