The Rev. James M. “Mike” Coram, who had dual careers as an Episcopal priest and a Baltimore Sun newspaperman, died Nov. 15 of complications from a blood infection at Mercy Medical Center. The Columbia resident was 80.
“Mike was a straightforward reporter, and the best thing I can say about him was that he had a great wit,” said William T.M. Grigg, a former Washington Star reporter and newspaper colleague. “Then he chucked his newspaper career and went into the ministry and then came back to newspapers when he joined The Baltimore Sun.”
“Mike was a wonderful guy, and we called him ‘Captain’ in those days when we were kids in the Howard County bureau,” said Mike James, a former Baltimore Sun editor who is now national editor for USA Today. “His beat was government, but he was a jack of all trades and could cover anything.”
Anne Haddad, a North Baltimore resident, was a reporter with Mr. Coram in The Sun’s Westminster bureau, where they were staff reporters on the paper’s old Carroll Sun zoned edition.
“Mike had been a young reporter, then a priest and mental health counselor, and then an experienced reporter,” Ms. Haddad wrote in an email.
“It was a great combination. He could see through any insincerity or rhetoric, focusing on the whole picture as well as the details. He could see the forest as well as the trees,” she wrote. “And while he may have been the oldest reporter in our bureau, he was an early adopter of technology, and had home internet and email before most of us did.”
James Michael Coram, the son of William T. Coram, a painter, and Louise Coram Bivens, a homemaker, was born in Tampa, Florida, where he was raised by his stepfather, William Bivens, a career Navy officer, and his mother.
Because of his stepfather’s naval service, Mr. Coram was also raised in American Samoa, Oregon, Rhode Island and Illinois, where he graduated from Evanston High School. He then served as an information specialist with the Army from 1959 to 1961.
He began his journalism career with the City News Bureau in Chicago, a “training ground of hard knocks and take no prisoners news reporting,” according to a biographical profile of Mr. Coram, and later was a reporter for the Champaign-Urbana Courier in Urbana, Illinois.
“We used to talk about his earliest days as a reporter at the legendary City News Bureau of Chicago, the legendary training ground for young reporters such as Kurt Vonnegut and Mike Royko,” wrote Ms. Haddad. “Royko, in fact, died in 1997 still owing Mike Coram a few bucks, few enough that it just made a good story to tell. Mike Coram would never remind anyone to pay him back.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in 1964 from American University, Mr. Coram joined the staff of The Star in Washington, where he was a general assignment reporter and covered the police beat.
“When Mike was a reporter with The Washington Star, Carl Bernstein was still a young and ambitious copy boy,” Ms. Haddad wrote. "And as we all watched the Clinton impeachment proceedings, Mike recalled how President Kennedy’s womanizing was an open secret among the Washington press corps, which he pointed out was made up of nearly all men in those days, his point being that homogeneous newsrooms were never a good thing."
In 1966, Mr. Coram, feeling the call of the priesthood, left The Star and entered the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, from which he graduated in 1968. After he was ordained an Episcopal priest, he served parishes in Spotsylvania, Virginia, Fredericksburg, Virginia, Woodbridge, Virginia, and High Point, North Carolina.
“Mike said he left newspapers to become a priest because he had bigger questions and frustrations that he couldn’t answer and explore in any other way,” Mrs. Hadadd wrote.
Mr. Coram resumed his newspaper career in 1985 when he moved to Maryland and joined the staff of The Columbia Flier, and in the late 1980s moved over to The Sun’s Howard Sun. In the 1990s, he became a staff writer for the Carroll Sun, covering local government.
“Mike was able to teach us things. I’d show him my lede and he’d say, ‘This is no good,’ and would then show me how to make it better. He was our litmus test,”recalled Mr. James, a Columbia resident. “He had a big heart and we all loved him”
“I remember when our editor in the Carroll bureau, Chris Guy, told me Mike was being transferred to our staff. It was 1995 or 1996, after a round of buyouts had left us short-staffed and emotionally bruised,” Ms. Haddad wrote. “Chris had already worked with Mike in the Howard County bureau, and referred to him as the ‘father confessor’ of that bureau — literally, since he was an Episcopal priest — but also because of the depth of his experience, ethics and his emotional intelligence.”
Ms. Haddad described him as being “tall, handsome, always nicely dressed, hale and hardy, never sick, and never wearing a coat heavier than a blazer. He used to say, ‘I have the constitution of a woolly mammoth.’ ”
It was Mr. Coram’s habit, Ms. Haddad said, to treat fellow reporters to meals.
“He always found a way to secretly arrange with the waiter to let him pick up the entire tab. He even did this once when he came in late and ordered nothing but soup,” she wrote. “Ordering only soup, by the way, was another bit of wisdom we learned from Mike: If the soup is good, then you could be safe ordering the rest of your meal. If it’s not good, then there’s no point ordering anything more.”
Whether it was in restaurants or at work, Mr. Coram looked out for his fellow reporters. When Ms. Haddad was meeting two anonymous confidential sources in a restaurant one day to gather information on a questionable public figure, she worried that it might be a trap.
“I asked Mike to stealthily show up and keep an eye out, which he did,” she recalled. "Everything turned out fine, by the way, but I knew I could trust Mike to pick up on anything that I might have missed."
Ms. Haddad speculated that while Mr. Coram had not planned to stay at The Sun for a decade, he found the work enjoyable, stimulating and challenging.
“And we were all glad that he did stay,” she wrote.
After taking a buyout in 1999, Mr. Coram “worked tirelessly in homeless shelters in Annapolis and Baltimore as an advocate and pastor,” the Rev. Travis K. Smith, rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Elkridge, wrote in a biographical profile.
Mr. Coram was a counselor at the Light House Shelter on West Street in Annapolis and the Project PLASE in Baltimore.
“He also offered clergy assistance to Maryland parishes, including Grace Episcopal Church,” Father Smith wrote. “Father Mike was a warm and caring priest. He touched many lives with his ministry of care and compassion.”
Mr. Coram had not retired at his death, said his wife of many years, the former Donna Geraci, a broadcast educator who had worked for the Council of Churches in Washington.
“When I worked in the Howard County bureau , at the end of a nice spring or summer day, Mike would occasionally invite us for a sail on his boat,” wrote former Sun reporter Jacqueline Powder in an email. “So, we would get into his Honda Civic and drive down to a marina on Kent Narrows and go for an evening sail. It seemed like Mike was his happiest on his boat, and he generously shared that experience with his colleagues.”
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“He’d come in to the newsroom and say, ‘Who wants to go sailing?’ and we’d head off in a caravan to the marina," Mr. James said.
“Mike believed life is a gift, and we are to share it in love and service,” Mr. Smith wrote. “And our dearest Mike is a gift to us, and will be missed, for he was a man whose big heart keeps on beating through his life work and imprint.”
Funeral services will be held at his church, Grace Episcopal Church at 5805 Main St., Elkridge, at noon Saturday.