Virginia D. Coleman, a family matriarch who worked in her father’s jewelry business and later managed a lingerie department, died of dementia Oct. 4 at Pickersgill Retirement Community. She was 99 and had lived in Timonium, among other places.
Born in Lauraville and raised on Overland Avenue, she was the daughter of Carl Joseph Doederlein, who owned a retail jewelry, silver, trophy and clock business, and his wife, Ruth White, an owner of White’s Animal Circus. She was a 1937 Eastern High School graduate.
She worked in the accounting department of her father’s four-story business on Charles Street near Saratoga.
“She loved math and had a talent for analytical thinking,” said her son, Carl Christopher “Chris” Coleman of Towson, who is a retired from the family jewelry business.
She met Nelson Reynolds Coleman Jr. at a Hopkins Players cast party. They married in 1939.
He joined the family jewelry business and after his father-in-law retired in 1954, he moved the shop across the street to the Woman’s Industrial Exchange building. He renamed it Nelson Coleman Jewelers.
In 1952, while Mrs. Coleman had temporarily retired from work at the jewelry shop, she planned to attend the Baltimore unveiling of the Hope Diamond at her father’s business. The 45.5-carat diamond was owned by New York dealer Harry Winston, who was trying to sell the gem.
The diamond never reached Baltimore — it got held up at another jeweler. Its intended purchaser, professional ice skater, Olympic gold medalist and film star Sonja Henie was appearing in Baltimore. The stands at the 5th Regiment Armory, where Ms. Henie skated, collapsed and injured numerous spectators.
“My mother and father told that story for years,” said their son, Christopher. “Sonja Henie believed it was part of the Hope Diamond curse.”
The diamond was soon donated to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, where it remains on display.
After she completed raising her sons, Mrs. Coleman began selling lingerie at Hutzler’s department store. She initially worked on Howard Street and later moved to Towson.
“She kept a private book of the names of her customers and worked with them to find the right garments after they had had surgeries,” said her son, Mark Coleman, a Towson resident. "When Hutzler’s closed, she moved on to Macy’s and the Hecht Company.
“She had had over 500 loyal customers that she personally helped fit in the lingerie department," her son said. “She won employee awards and became a department manager. For years she kept a note from Albert D. Hutzler Jr., a store owner, congratulating her for achieving a sales quota."
As Mrs. Coleman advanced in age, she once found a job interviewer who was reluctant to hire her.
“You are not allowed to ask my age," said Mrs. Coleman, who took out her order book filled with the names of her customers. She was hired on the spot and she worked until she was 80.
Her son, Mark Coleman, said Mrs. Coleman was a thoughtful host.
“My mother had a knack for keeping a beautiful house. She knew the gift the hospitality and how to be gracious,” Mark Coleman said. "There was no person who was a better gift giver. She spent a year planning her Christmas gifts, which she then meticulously wrapped. Her legacy is her family.”
Mrs. Coleman played the piano and could sight-read music. She had a baby grand piano and its bench was full of the 1930s songs she had known in her youth. She was a second-row Baltimore Symphony Orchestra subscriber and took her grandchildren and great-grandchildren for upfront performances where she explained the instruments.
She and her husband were regulars at the old Baltimore Opera Ball. He designed and donated a piece of jewelry for the annual event. The jewelry was auctioned for the charity.
She traveled widely and had a map mark of pins to mark her destinations. She had been active in the parents’ clubs of St. Mary’s Govans, Immaculate Conception, Blessed Sacrament, Maryvale, Loyola Blakefield and Calvert Hall schools.
Family members said she was pleased that four of her six sons went into the family business, now located in Towson.
A memorial Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Nov. 13 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. Charles St., where she had been a member and had attended its opening Mass in 1959.
In addition to her sons, survivors include two other sons, Jeffrey Coleman of Baltimore and Randall “Randy” Coleman of Alexandria, Virginia; 13 grandchildren; and 20 great-grandchildren. A son, Nelson Coleman III died in 1976. Another son, Dale Coleman died in 2007. Her husband of 52 years died in 1991.