Friends Remembered: Joseph B. Coleman

Joseph B. Coleman of Ashland, New Hampshire, died Monday, March 6, 2023.

Coleman was born Sept. 10, 1928, in Providence, Rhode Island. He was the son of George V. and Anna (Burns) Coleman.

He attended LaSalle Academy in Providence, Rhode Island, and St Mary’s University in Baltimore. Following graduation, he attended St. Mary’s School of Theology. He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest on June 4, 1955.

Coleman served as a clergyman for numerous churches from 1955 to 1984.

Coleman received the Carnegie Medal for saving two young girls, ages 7 and 11, from being shot after being taken hostage by a gunman in their Providence, Rhode Island, apartment, on March 27, 1966.

After the man had fired at responding police officers at least 15 times, Coleman approached the dwelling and talked to the man. He pleaded in vain for the man to release the girls, and after firing again at police, the gunman said he would surrender the children to Coleman only if he entered the house to get them.

Almost blinded by tear gas, Coleman entered the building alone and ascended the stairs to the apartment door. The gunman moved a furniture barricade and opened the door. When Coleman asked for the pistol, the man handed it to him. It still contained ammunition.

Coleman carried the 11-year-old down the stairs as the man followed, carrying the 7-year-old. The gunman was taken into custody by the police and later was sentenced to prison.

During his priesthood, Coleman received many civic awards. In 1962, the East Greenwich Jr. Chamber of Commerce chose him as ‘Man of the Year’ for “outstanding community service through loyal and unselfish efforts resulting in lasting contributions to community and nation.” In 1974, the Newport City Council cited Coleman for his service to the community. In 1978, the Rhode Island House of Representatives recognized his courage and selflessness in saving more than a dozen lives on the Newport Bridge. Coleman was often called to the Claiborne Pell Bridge that connects Newport, Rhode Island, with Jamestown, Rhode Island, to deter desperate people from jumping to their death. In the case cited in the congressional award, Coleman had climbed a cable 400 feet above Narragansett Bay to lead a woman to safety.

In 1984, Coleman left the priesthood to marry Sandra Carlson.

At that time, he said, “I love the priesthood, I love the church. I have struggled to be a good priest for the last 29 years. I wasn’t always successful. I could not always live up to the high standards the church demands of her priests. For me, it was a daily struggle. When I married Sandra, the struggle was over.”

Coleman is survived by his beloved wife, Sandra; three nephews; and five nieces. He was preceded in death by his sisters Margaret and Constance; and a brother, George.