‘An irreplaceable person’

GENE DEASON Special to the Bulletin
Stuart Coleman

Stuart S. Coleman was being remembered Tuesday by friends from throughout Texas as someone reminiscent of a pecan tree, as the straight-man to Groner Pitts’ comedy, and as a one-time used car salesman honorable enough to become a friend for life.

But Coleman was also hailed as a wise and trusted adviser — an irreplaceable leader and man of the people who was not only generous with his time and money for projects that will benefit citizens for decades to come, but also as someone who perpetually resisted taking the credit due him for his considerable contributions. They each took news of his death as an opportunity to make certain that such credit is given.

Coleman died Monday morning at his Brownwood home following an illness. Services will be at 2 p.m. Thursday at First United Methodist Church in Brownwood, with Heartland Funeral Home of Early in charge of arrangements. Survivors include his wife, Margaret.

Community leaders said Coleman has been a part of every important community project since 1960, either visibly or behind the scenes. His contributions and those of his wife were recognized in 1999 with the naming of the Margaret and Stuart Coleman Plaza in front of the Depot Civic and Cultural Center.

Coleman’s service on the board of directors of the Brown County Water Improvement District No. 1 spanned a total of 48 years, beginning in 1960. He served on the boards of the Brownwood Chamber of Commerce, Brownwood Economic Development Corporation, Brownwood Regional Medical Center, the Brownwood Industrial Foundation, Brownwood Airport Board and the J.R. Beadel Central Texas Foundation.

He also served five years (1985-1990) on the Texas Water Development Board, appointed by Gov. Mark White; and six years (2002-2008) on the Texas Building and Procurement Commission, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry.

He and his wife founded Coleman Distributing Co., a wholesale beer distributor, in 1956, and they sold the business in 2008.

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“If you were talking about the future of the state, of Brown County or even your own personal future, Stuart Coleman was the one man you’d want in the room,” former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes said. “His advice was that solid, his judgment was that wise. He was so quick to understand problems and bring mature judgment to them.”

Barnes, a former Brownwood resident who represented this area in the Texas House of Representatives before being elected to statewide office, now heads the Ben Barnes Group in Austin, a government affairs consulting firm.

“Stuart’s contributions are almost immeasurable,” Barnes said, pointing to achievements like Coleman’s work in water resources and economic development, as well as his efforts to bring industries like Kohler to Brownwood. But Barnes said Coleman’s influence was felt not only in Brown County, but also in the state’s 253 other counties through his service on state commissions.

“I’ve shared good news and not so good news with Stuart and Margaret,” Barnes said, reflecting on their longtime friendship. “But I remember the happy times. One of those was when Stuart joined the Methodist church there in Brownwood and accepted his faith. We shared many happy occasions…

“Stuart had a way of making people comfortable. He was a man who was comfortable in his own skin. He didn’t have an ego… It was almost impossible to give the man credit. He worked well with people, helping them feel good about themselves, and getting them to do more than what they thought they were capable of doing.”

Recalling the decades when Coleman was a key part of the whimsical Brownwood Mafia, an informal group organized for the single serious purpose of promoting Brownwood, Barnes said, “Stuart played the role of straight-man to Groner Pitts better than any actor in Hollywood ever could.”

After Pitts died in 2004, and the community’s highest public service award celebrating a lifetime of achievement was named in his memory, Coleman became the first recipient of the honor in 2007.

“Stuart was such a significant person, but so understated,” Barnes said. “It’s hard for anyone to have had a bad thought against him.

“I think of Stuart as one of those very, very tall and strong pecan trees on the Bayou, standing there to provide us more shade, more pecans and more beauty to the world that we live in.”

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Bert Massey, former major of Brownwood who is now a director on the water district board on which Coleman served for almost half a century, described Coleman’s passing “as a great loss not only to his beloved family, but as well to this community.

“It is my opinion that he is an irreplaceable person. No one I know of has ever been as generous as Stuart to this community through the use of his time, influence both here and in Austin, and in the nation’s capital — and with his money.

“He was truly, with the help of his beloved wife, Margaret, a self-made man who never forgot where he came from, and he always recognized that there were others not as fortunate as he,” Massey continued. “His lifetime of public service not only in Brownwood and Brown County, but at the state level as well, will not be duplicated.

“He was my mentor, my hero and guide,” Massey said. “In my local public career, he was the model I attempted to emulate. He was truly a Christian gentleman who my wife and I and our children dearly loved.”

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“Stuart was one of the first people I met when I moved to Brownwood at the age of 19,” said Mary Scott Nabers, who has since served on the Texas Employment Commission and on the Texas Railroad Commission. She now leads Strategic Partnerships, a research and consulting firm in Austin.

“Stuart was a community leader who seemed to be involved in everything,” Nabers said. “I had grown up in a family where community involvement was important, so through the years Stuart became one of my mentors, and I was one of his greatest admirers.

“When my husband, Lynn, graduated from law school and was weighing a race for the legislature, Stuart was an adviser who urged us to make a commitment and take the risk. He was actively involved in a number of boards and commissions statewide so both Lynn and I had many opportunities to interact with him in state government through the years. And, in the meantime, we became very close friends with Stuart and Margaret.”

Lynn Nabers, who died in 2010, represented the Brownwood area in the Texas House of Representatives for 14 years.

“Later, when I got into government, Stuart was again a supporter and adviser,” Mary Nabers said. “I valued his counsel.

“Stuart and Margaret have been part of my extended family of friends for many, many years. Brownwood and the entire state of Texas have lost a friend. He will be sorely missed.”

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Harry Miller Jr. of Brownwood served as general manager for the Brown County Water Improvement District No. 1 from 1978 to 2002, and Coleman was on the local board during those years when he wasn’t serving on the state water development board.

“Stuart and I have been friends for 59 years,” Miller said. “No one ever had a better friend. He had a capacity for complete dedication to the needs of his family, friends, business associates, Brownwood, Brown County, and the state of Texas. His accomplishments were awesome. Among them are Coleman Distributing Co., service as a Brown County Water Improvement District director (through hard times, rebuilding to financial security and mechanical precision), Texas Water Development Board director, and as a member of the West Texas Division State Water Plan Development Committee. The statewide water plan will be adopted in the next session of the Texas Legislature.

“Stuart remained a modest man all his life, ready to help wherever he could. I am proud to have been his friend, and I rejoice with my fellow citizens that we were blessed by his choice to live among us.”

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“My first contact with Stuart was back in the late 1940s, when I came to school at Daniel Baker College,” Brownwood businessman and civic leader J. Fred Perry said. “He was in the used car business, and I bought a used car from him. He was my friend from that moment, until now.

“Stuart was a devoted part of every worthwhile project there was in Brown County, and he encouraged his friends to be a part of them too. Brownwood and Brown County have benefited from his leadership greatly.”

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O.C. “Putter” Jarvis, also a longtime Brownwood businessman and civic leader, said it didn’t matter what it was, if it was good for the community, “Stuart was always there, to do what was good for Brownwood. And when you talk about Stuart, you are also talking about Margaret. If you weren’t, you are playing with half a deck.

“It didn’t matter if it was the hospital, the Youth Fair, or the water district, or anything else beneficial,” Jarvis said.

His influence for the betterment of this community was felt as far as Washington, D.C., but it was especially strong in Austin. “Stuart was always there, always serving to do what was good for Brownwood.”

Coleman had the leadership abilities to recruit others in the community to become involved, Jarvis said. And he spent his entire life seeking opportunities to be involved in the improvement of lives of everyone, even to the youngest child.

“Stuart Coleman was one of those leaders who was selfless and was always putting community first,” Jarvis said. “And he was there with his wallet in hand when it was needed.”

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Coleman was a mentor to everyone who has been elected to the board of directors of the Brown County Water Improvement District No. 1 in recent years, Ted Simpson, longtime member of the board, said.

“No one in the area knew more about statewide water issues than Stuart,” Simpson said. “He served for over 40 years, and the only time he left was when he was appointed to the Water Development Board.”

Simpson said he joined the board while Coleman was a member of that board, and later served for 14 years as the board president.

“He was a very generous man. We all respected Stuart. He will be missed. He and Margaret did a lot for Brownwood.”

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Dennis Spinks, general manager of the Brown County Water Improvement District No. 1, said, “Stuart was an invaluable asset to the district in regard to his connections in the political arena at Austin. If you needed assistance with legislative issues, Stuart was the man to go to. I do not believe Stuart ever failed at a task he undertook.

“His accomplishments for BCWID as a board member are just too numerous to list here. I believe that all the general managers that served under Stuart’s leadership realized that if something needed to be accomplished, get Stuart’s support and you would never fail. “

Spinks said Coleman was well-liked by all the employees of the district because he was a man who started life with very little and “worked his way up to become one the most outstanding citizens of Brown County. But he still took the time to talk with the employees and ask what he could do for them or the district to improve the working environment.

“Stuart’s passing is a great loss for us at BCWID as his knowledge and expertise in water can never be replaced by any one man. Stuart dedicated 53 years of his life to public service for water in Brown County.”

Coleman was appointed to the BCWID Board of Directors in 1960 to fill a seat vacated by the death of E.J. Robertson, Spinks said. Coleman served on the board until 2013, with the exception of five years from 1985 to 1990 when he stepped down to serve on the state water board.

“That is 48 years of service to BCWID and the people of Brown County,” Spinks said. “Not only did he serve on the state water board, but he was also on the Texas Water Development Board’s planning group for Region F for many years.”