Born in London, England, on August 31, 1937, Jack David Bo Coleman was the eldest son of Anne Lise and David Coleman, and was, according to himself, of Viking lineage. He was an inquisitive, intellectual, kind person with an irreverent sense of humor who loved telling tall tales and offering intentionally dubious fashion and life advice to his daughters. He deeply loved his family, playing the bagpipes (much to his daughters’ dismay in their youth), gardening, kayaking, debating political theory, deep conversations about history, philosophy, and current events, volunteering, and long rambles in the countryside. He was a beloved father, husband, brother, and friend. He passed away January 28, 2024, with his daughters by his side.
As a child, Jack’s life was largely defined by the Second World War which broke out the day after he turned two. His father served in British Intelligence for six years and the family was moved often for their safety. Following the end of the war the family emigrated to the United States in 1948, when Jack was 11. The next decade was what he called “the hard years,” defined by frequent moves and scarcity (14 homes in 10 years, and six schools attended). Fortunately, Jack and his brother Francis were admitted to the South Kent School in Connecticut which had a stabilizing and formative influence on both. Education proved to be a central theme of his life.
A graduate of Princeton University, Jack took a hiatus after his junior year, from 1958 to 1965, during which he volunteered for several years on Mackinac Island then joined the Army in which he served four years as a medic from 1962 to 1965. He fondly recounted spending his leave bicycling about parts of Europe visiting family friends, exploring, and taking photos. He said the structure of the Army served him well, and he returned to Princeton, graduating in 1966.
Jack met his wife of 55 years, Roxane Yourd, in graduate school at Harvard University in 1966. Married in 1968, they spent several years living in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland and later in Aniak and Shishmaref, Alaska following Jack’s receipt of his PhD in anthropology from the University of Massachusetts in 1975. Following the birth of their daughter Elizabeth in 1977, Jack and Roxane settled in Philadelphia, where daughter Hannah was born in 1982.
Jack taught history at the William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia for 26 years, retiring in 2006. He was quite a character, remembered by his colleagues and students for his bagpipe playing in the hallways after the school day ended, requiring pushups from any student late to class, and starting exams by firing a miniature cap canon kept on his desk.
Deep friendship and family connections were invaluable to Jack, as the many letters he saved over the years will attest. He had an impressive number of enduring friendships through the course of his life, spanning many decades. When he said, “stay in touch,” he meant it, and reciprocated in kind. An avid kayaker, with an adventurer’s heart, he loved being on the water, whether helping friends sail their boat south for the winter, paddling the Schuylkill River, or volunteering as a guide for a marathon open water swim event around Manhattan.
Jack was diagnosed with dementia 13 years ago and declined swiftly following his wife’s death in December 2023. His daughters are deeply grateful for the tremendous help and care of Cindy Hamilton who provided good natured care and companionship for Jack in the last few years.
He is survived by his daughters Elizabeth Coleman and Hannah Coleman, his brother Francis Coleman, nieces Rosie Garlapow, Lara Carey, and Lily Coleman-Bondgren, and many cousins. A Celebration of Life will be held February 24, 2024, at 11am at the church of St. Martin in the Fields in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia. The service may be watched live, and later as a recording here: https://youtube.com/live/SgUKzriNeFU
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the ASPCA.