Luezear S. Coleman, an educator who served as an inspiration to African American women in Baltimore, died of heart failure Aug. 15 at Inova Alexandria Hospital in Virginia. The Owings Mills resident was 99.
“I’ve thought about her life and have been observing her for 50 years, ever since I began dating her daughter Jackie,” said Freeman A. Hrabowski III, Mrs. Coleman’s son-in-law and former president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
“She was a math teacher in the best sense of the word and over the years she has been teaching us about life,” Mr. Hrabowski said. “She taught us how to live, and she taught us how to die.”
Alicia L. Wilson, managing director of JPMorgan Chase’s North American regional philanthropy team, became acquainted with Mrs. Coleman through her daughter, Jacqueline Coleman Hrabowski, who retired from T. Rowe Price, where she was vice president of community involvement.
“She was a mentor, a guide, and supported me and so many other women in Baltimore,” Ms. Wilson said. “She was someone I could run ideas by, plus we both shared a love of young people.”
Born Lue Zear Short, she was one of 15 children of William Short, a millworker, and Minnie Short, a homemaker, in Alberta, Virginia, where she was raised on the family farm.
“When she was a teenager she changed her name to Luezear,” Mr. Hrabowski said.
When Mrs. Coleman was five, an aunt and uncle in Rutherford, New Jersey, persuaded her mother to let her move in with them and attend kindergarten.
“There she was exposed to schools with materials and teachers who encouraged her and told her she was smart,” according to a biographical profile of Mrs. Coleman.
With the coming of the Great Depression, her relatives could no longer take care of her and she returned to Alberta, where she continued her education in public schools.
Mrs. Coleman was the first member of her family to complete elementary school. There was no high school in rural Brunswick County, Virginia, so she went to the old St. Paul’s Normal and Industrial School in Lawrenceville, Virginia.
Students had to provide their own transportation and meet the tuition requirements of $5 per year, Mr. Hrabowski said.
It was on the bus to school that she met and fell in love with her future husband, Meade Bernard Coleman.
After high school, she worked a number of jobs.
“She had grit. She never gave up,” Mr. Hrabowski said.
When her future husband was in the service, she began her college studies at the old Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville to become a teacher, and when he returned from World War II, they married in 1945 and settled in Warfield, Virginia.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in 1951 and began teaching at the old Warfield Elementary School, which was segregated.
The school had three rooms, six grades, an outdoor toilet and “wooden planks for floors where cold winds would seep through,” family members said.
After public schools were integrated in the 1960s, Mrs. Coleman joined the faculty of Alberta Smith Elementary School, and then Red Oak Elementary School, where she taught math and science.
She was joined by her husband, a former bricklayer, at Red Oak, after he returned to St. Paul’s College and earned his bachelor’s degree.
“She had an insatiable love of learning and was always questioning, had an open mind, and was never closed-minded, and she had a love of young people and their stories,” Mr. Hrabowski said. “She was a great conversationalist because she was so well-read.”
She retired in 1982.
“She was a great cheerleader for me,” Ms. Wilson said. “Even though our ages were far apart, she had a heart that was very young, and we had much in common. She had 99 years and knew how to use them.”
Taylor A. Bordes, a granddaughter, who is a dental student at the University of Maryland, was raised by Mrs. Coleman until she reached the 10th grade.
“She always made sure by the end of the day that I felt love. She always made sure that I learned the value of education and taught me to keep going, because they can’t take that away from you,” she said. “She gave me roots and wings. Roots to stay grounded and wings to fly on my own.”
Mrs. Coleman and her husband became leaders in their community “where everyone looked up to and called upon them for help and guidance,” Ms. Hrabowski said.
Mrs. Coleman and her husband were active communicants of St. James Episcopal Church in Warfield.
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After her husband died in 1992, Mrs. Coleman spent the remainder of her life living with her children in Owings Mills, Fort Washington, Lithonia, Georgia, and Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Frankie E. Martin, a retired Maryland Institute College of Art administrator, was a friend for 40 years.
“Maya Angelou wrote, ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ That was Luezear,” Ms. Martin said.
“She was a bridge to the past and we could see what people went through to get society where it is today, and at 99, she had seen all of those changes,” Mr. Hrabowski said. “She saw so many dreams fulfilled.”
At 65, she began taking piano lessons and enjoyed crocheting, gardening, reading, crossword puzzles and a good game of checkers.
Funeral services were held Aug. 19 at St. James Episcopal Church in Warfield, Virginia.
Mrs. Coleman is survived by her son, Meade B. “Bernie” Coleman of Fayetteville; three daughters, Jacqueline Coleman “Jackie” Hrabowski of Owings Mills, Dr. Marilyn Coleman-Bordes of Fort Washington, and Jocelyn C. Warfield of Lithonia; seven other grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.