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In Memoriam - First Lady Nora Stewart Coleman

Monday, May 16, 2005

HONOLULU-Former American Samoa first lady Nora Stewart Coleman died Wednesday night at Honolulu's Queen's Medical Center of complications from a cerebral hemorrhage she had suffered on Sunday, May 1, 2005. She was 85.

Her funeral is set for 12:30pm Friday, May 20, 2005, at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Honolulu, Hawaii. Afterwards, she will be buried alongside her husband at the Diamond Head Memorial Park.

The widow of four-term American Samoa Gov. Peter Tali Coleman, Mrs. Coleman first came to American Samoa with her husband and family in June 1952. They arrived on the USS President Jackson which had been dispatched to Tutuila to pick up members of the Fita Fita Guard and their families who were being transferred to Honolulu by the U.S. Navy. The Navy had, at that time, turned over jurisdiction to the U.S. Department of the Interior. This transfer to Hawaii is sometimes referred to as the Great Samoan Migration/Exodus, since it involved the movement of a large group of people.

Mrs. Coleman was born and raised in Honolulu. She had one brother and five sisters. She attended Sacred Hearts Academy in Kaimuki before moving on to the Kamehameha (High) School for Girls where she graduated with honors in 1938. She completed one year at the University of Hawaii-Manoa before being forced by the sudden death of her father to drop out to help support her family by going to work.

In 2003, much to her great surprise and pleasure, a stranger returned her high school class ring, which she had lost while swimming at Waikiki shortly after her graduation in 1938. She had never held out any hope that the ring would ever be found. The story was prominently reported by both the Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

She married Coleman in 1941. He had graduated in 1939 from Saint Louis High School. They had met in 1940 at a charity fundraiser fashion show. She modeled a dress from the Bishop Museum that had once belonged to a member of the Hawaiian royal family. Standing behind her, Coleman served as her kahili bearer. The marriage lasted 56 years and produced 13 children. He died in 1997.

A Hawaiian-Scottish-German-Chinese by birth, Mrs. Coleman became the first island woman to become first lady of American Samoa when the Department of the Interior appointed her husband in 1956 as the territory's first Samoan governor. He served until 1961, after which he was transferred by DOI to Micronesia (then called the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands) where Coleman served as District Administrator for the Marshall Islands (1965-1969) and the Northern Marianas (1965-1969) before being appointed Deputy High Commissioner (1969-1976). He completed his service on Saipan as acting High Commissioner (1976-1977).

The Colemans returned to American Samoa in 1977 to run in the territory's first-ever gubernatorial election. Coleman won and Mrs. Coleman returned as first lady of the territory. She served as first lady from 1978 to 1985 and then again from 1989-1993.

Longtime friends and family will remember her for her simple, direct, and practical ways for getting things done. She believed that there was a solution to every problem and that solution could be found or arrived at quickly without complication. She had no time for complication.

Mrs. Coleman is survived by 12 children, William Patrick, Peter Tali Jr, Milton, Amata, Bruce, Charles, Richard, Paul, Barrett, Alan, Sinaita, Aga and Limonmon; her sisters Julia Stewart Williams, a writer, and Nell Stewart Johnson, a retired educator; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.