James “Jimmy” Coleman, Jr. never served in uniform but he was a well-respected member of the U.S. Coast Guard family. Coleman was a philanthropist who very much believed in the Coast Guard mission and its history. One could say the National Coast Guard Museum in New London, Connecticut, would not be what it is today without him. Coleman died at 77 on March 21, 2019 in his hometown of New Orleans.
He was a realtor who developed high-profile properties in New Orleans and was an avid Anglophile who was dubbed Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.
Coleman’s interests were varied and though he had an unbreakable loyalty with his hometown, he spent a lot of his time in New London. We’re not sure where his love of the Coast Guard came from but he spent nearly the last 30 years designing and fundraising for the Coast Guard Museum. In 2015 he purchased Union Station in New London for $3 million to give a home to the museum adjacent to the station to bring prominence to both the city and museum.
“Jimmy had a vision that encompassed not only the mission of the Coast Guard, but he had a sense of how it could be displayed and how it could educate to a broader section of schoolchildren and visitors from across the country and the world,” said Dick Grahn in an interview with local New London newspaper “The Day.” “He took a very broad view of the Coast Guard and its importance not only in the U.S., but to the world.”
The National Coast Guard Museum Association, still in its funding phase, was founded by Coleman in 2002 in efforts to fund raise, design and construct the museum. Today, the museum association has raised about $47 million.
“Jimmy was the first chairman of the National Coast Guard Museum Association,” said President of the National Coast Guard Museum Association Wes Pulver, retired Coast Guard captain. “He provided financial support for the project and was chair emeritus.”
When asked about what Coleman was like, Pulver says he remembers Coleman as a great friend who visited New London a few times a year with immense positivism, a drive to see things done, and a sly smile.
“He liked getting things done, pushing the football down the field,” related Pulver.
For his work with the museum and his philanthropy with the Coast Guard Foundation, the Coast Guard awarded him the first ever Alexander Hamilton award as well as the National U.S. Coast Guard Spirit of Hope Award, and the National Maritime Historical Society Distinguished Service Award.
Coleman may not have worn a uniform but he was no less a member of the long blue line who served the Coast Guard with honor, respect and devotion to duty.