More than a decade ago, Art Coleman and I had an appointment to meet at the Arboretum so that I could interview him for the newsletter. I found him strapped into a harness and more than halfway up a huge white pine, pruning saw in hand. Art was clearly in his element.
To be honest, it was a difficult interview. Art, soft spoken and humble, was reluctant to talk about himself. Although I knew that he trained as a chemist, I had no idea his degrees were from Harvard and RPI.
Nor did I know that he was invited to give the commencement address at his alma mater, the Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester, VT, in 1981. Art was proud that his small manufacturing plant produced chemicals for medical uses and university research facilities, although he didn’t speak of the several patents he held. It was obvious, however, that he was most proud that his work benefited others.
Art was most effusive when he spoke about how in his retirement he was enjoying those same activities he treasured while growing up in Vermont’s Green Mountains. It was apparent that he was a man most at home in nature. Art spoke to me about his wholehearted dedication to the New York Forest Owners Association and Trout Unlimited – and the Landis Arboretum. For many years, he was a regular Landis volunteer, helping to prepare for the spring and fall plant sales. He said that he loved the company and the “energy” (his word, repeatedly) of his fellow volunteers.
Art spent many solitary hours pruning and caring for the Arboretum’s trees.
Someone at the Arboretum who knew Art – and I can’t remember who it was – once told me that Art “flew under the radar.” He would never boast about his benevolence, but we want to recognize his most generous contributions to establish the Art and Barbara Coleman Lilac Collection, as well as his donations to help maintain the historic Lape plantings and the Native Plant Trail.
I imagine that Art was a true friend to a select few – the kind of friend that one is privileged to have, that rare friend, that friend for life. He certainly was a friend to Landis. Art reminded me in many ways of my father. We dedicated a tree in Dad’s memory at Landis after his recent passing. On the plaque, we recorded these words: “If you would know strength and patience, welcome the company of trees.” I think that these words also get to the heart of the person Art Coleman was.