Tom Coleman, father to us all
I mean no disrespect to John and Jimmy and the other Coleman siblings, but on this Father’s Day, I know that Tom was a father to me too. Not just as a mentor in the politics of Chatham County, but as a citizen. Because Tom looked out for all of us for those many years he spent Atlanta, making sure that we got more than just a share of what we sent there in taxes. Before that, he served us well as Chairman of our County’s government, and as a Savannah Alderman. Tom always looked out for us. Not because he wanted to get re-elected, but because he knew that government was meant to serve us. He made sure it did just that.
Tom was first and foremost a born leader, whether as captain of his Georgia Tech varsity football team, or as the CEO of the contracting business he started, or as the Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation. He also headed up one of the most prolific and determined families in Savannah, making sure that each child and grandchild had a good chance to succeed. He knew how to listen, but even more so, he knew how to persuade you that he was right. He led by example, and he nearly always got what we needed when we really needed it.
I had the great good fortune to work with Tom on getting a new convention center built, creating a new dimension for our community’s hospitality industry that is still a well known secret in Savannah. Tom got a stingy Governor Zell Miller to fund a third of the center’s cost, even after he had gotten Zell to finance construction of our port, too. He was also clever enough to make it a “match”, so that we County Commissioners had to come up with two thirds from local funds. After we put the matter to the voters in a referendum, and they passed it, he wrote the legislation that created the operating authority. He taught me how to be a leader, and then winked at me when I got appointed Chairman of that authority, and had to figure out how to get it open!
Tom Coleman should be remembered as one of the greatest leaders we have ever had. His legacy is around us everywhere in the parks and roads and institutions he built and left us behind when he passed away last week. He worked tirelessly for all of us. Like a father, he made sure we were taken care of, even before he took care of himself.