The City of Duncan’s longest serving mayor has died.
But Michael Coleman was more than that, a lot more, and the Cowichan Valley was the beneficiary of all of his skill, professionalism, humour, and passion.
Coleman, who died at home surrounded by family early on Tuesday, June 29, was born in Vancouver on March 23, 1943 to parents the Reverend Michael and Mrs. Mary (King) Coleman. The family moved to Victoria, and then to Quamichan. In 1950 Coleman’s father was elected Bishop and the family moved to Regina, Sask. for 10 years. He attended Strathcona School, and then boarded at Upper Canada College in Toronto for four years, where he met prime ministers John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson. In 1960 the family moved west again to Pender Island, and Coleman attended the University of British Columbia, graduating with his law degree. While at UBC he served as University Student AMS President, and was active in the Young Liberals (an affiliation he would wear proudly throughout his life), but most importantly, that was where Coleman met his wife Barbara.
Coleman, his wife, and oldest son Charlie moved to Duncan in 1969, and Coleman began his career as a lawyer. He practiced law in Duncan for the next 46 years, retiring in December 2015, having been honoured as Queen’s Counsel in 2010. The couple had a second son, Ted, in 1970, and their youngest, Jamie, in 1978.
But while he indeed made his mark as a lawyer, Coleman will be best remembered in Duncan for his extraordinary public service.
He was first elected to Duncan city council as an alderman in 1973, and then mayor in 1979. It was a position he would fill for 22 years, though not consecutively. He also became president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
“Mayor Mike” was named a Freeman of the City in 2011.
But being mayor for more than two decades is far from the extent of Coleman’s legacy.
Coleman played an integral role in the founding of many community organizations including Cowichan Family Life, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Cowichan United Way, Hiiye’yu Lelum (House of Friendship), Community Futures, Legal Aid, the Cowichan Foundation, the Cowichan Valley Bar Association and the Cowichan District Hospital Foundation. During his time in civic government he helped develop VIU’s Cowichan Campus, revamped City Square, boosted relations with Cowichan Tribes, brought the 2008 North American Indigenous Games to Duncan and forged links with Duncan’s sister cities Meru, Kenya and Montmagny, Quebec.
And he did it all with a ready, infectious smile, and a sense of humour.
The Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce honoured Coleman with the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014.
Coleman was also a tried and true federal Liberal, introducing family members to prime ministers Pierre Trudeau, John Turner, Jean Chretien, Paul Martin and Justin Trudeau.
He was also something of a Renaissance man. He published several books of his own poetry, and his family fondly remembers his love of reading and literature.
“The family watched hockey, the news and talked politics regularly,” said son Charlie. “These often ended in heated debates. Mike and Barb chose to raise their family in the small town of Duncan, but they made a point of showing them the world. Family vacations every summer included places like England, Greece, Egypt, Tahiti, Mexico and Morocco, to name a few. Mike also made a point of going to almost all of the kids’ sports, especially soccer games. He did this for sons Charlie, Ted and Jamie. He also did this for his grandkids, Michael and Ryan (sons of Charlie and Deanie) and Grace and Blake (twins of Jamie and Pam).”
He is survived by his wife Barb and their boys, Charlie, Ted and Jamie (Pam), his grandchildren, Michael, Ryan, Grace and Blake, his sisters Rosemary (Bob) and Sally (Dick), his brother Chris (Judith), and countless cousins and friends.
Due to COVID restrictions there will be only a small family funeral at this time. A larger memorial will be held when bigger public gatherings are once again allowed. In lieu of flowers people are asked to consider a donation to the Cowichan Foundation or a charity of their choice.