Wilby Compton Coleman was one of a kind, and thoroughly enjoyed almost all of his 92 years. Wilby was born in Tampa, FL to Elizabeth and Fred Coleman in June of 1929 and spent his childhood in College Park, GA. As a free spirited boy, he spent his childhood sneaking his father’s pistol out to play “cowboy” (carefully making notches on the side for each “kill”) and having military-style BB gun fights with the neighborhood boys wearing goggles and thick coats. He distinctly remembered his teacher tying him to her waist sash to keep him close to her and ensure he behaved which may have contributed to his time at Georgia Military Academy.
Wilby was cherished by his parents, learning the importance of hard work from his father who owned and ran drive-in movie houses across the Southeast, and inheriting the genes and artistic eye from his mother who adored and inspired him. He proudly attended Washington and Lee University with the intention of obtaining a degree in business but left after his associates degree to follow his passion for art at the University of Georgia. After one brief quarter, he decided another, more lucrative field might be more ideal and pursued law school with his whole heart. He married Gretchen Eberhardt and, immediately after graduation and passing the Georgia Bar exam, was called to military service to serve one term as an Air Force JAG officer during the Korean conflict. Following discharge from the Air Force, Wilby joined a law firm in Valdosta and started a family. His practice of law lasted a total of 37 years, and was culminated by starting his own very successful law firm that occupied the latter 20 years of his career. Gretchen suddenly died in 1968 and Wilby always said “the Cavalry arrived in 1970 in the form of a wonderful woman, Gloria Mederer.” To those of us who knew them well know that she felt exactly the same way about Wilby offering to become the mother and wife of the Coleman family.
Wilby and Gloria shared a love affair that we typically only imagine exists in books. They shared everything including a love for reading and education (often conjugating verbs in Latin at a moment’s notice), poetry, cooking, and adventure. They found themselves delighting in life together hiking the Appalachian trail, becoming masterful cooks, riding bicycles through Europe and adding one more girl to the family. Wilby became an avid snipe sailor and the founder of the Valdosta Yacht Club, ultimately winning the National and Minneford World point score trophies in competitive snipe sailing.
Wilby found himself satisfied with life, enjoying the interplay of his work and his hobbies which now included playing the five-string banjo with a talented group of bluegrass pickers (including his children and friends) and planning and executing a hell of a bluegrass festival in The Great Hahira Pick-In which ran annually for 16 years. One day a dear friend suggested he attend a blacksmith workshop and, just like a match, the spark was ignited. He soon found himself “electrified” and built a full blacksmith shop in his backyard. What started as weekends and nights in the blacksmith shop soon bled into the weekdays, and he retired from his law firm when he realized he wanted to commit himself entirely to Georgia Code Section 16-9-1, better known as “forgery in the first degree.” He liked to say he felt like a “volcano” where he’d “sublimated the artistic impulse for 30 years.” During this time he used “found objects” to create hundreds of art “progeny,” many of which included lessons from science, mythology, religion, astronomy, old jokes, songs, common phrases, and history. Many of the titles are replete with irony, puns, double entendres, and layers of meaning. He delighted in those who “got” his artwork and their meanings, taking care to challenge viewers and not make the work “easy to understand,” and appreciating the fact that “what you get is what you get.”
Unfortunately, Wilby lost his eyesight and thus the ability to create the art he loved and then not too much later, he lost the love of his life, Gloria. These years were difficult for him, and for all of those who loved him, but he persevered, relishing in picking the mountain dulcimer and listening to thousands of audiobooks, keeping his mind sharp and alive. Wilby left this world satisfied with all he’d done and created in life, often spending time reliving and retelling his many adventures, but most of all he left hoping to reunite with his truest love, Gloria.
Wilby was well loved by his family and leaves many behind: Wilby Coleman (deceased; children include Wilby, Molly, and Chappell), Compton Coleman (Glynnis Coleman), Chris Coleman (deceased; children include Christopher, Olivia, and Sarah), Justin Coleman (Rosemary Coleman; children include Morgan and Sommers), Sallyann Coleman King (Ray King; children include Coleman and Camden), and 6 great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers please consider making a donation in his honor to the Lowndes Valdosta Arts Center which played a huge role in harnessing his love of art and allowing his enthusiasm to create an art home for the city of Valdosta, or to the National Library of Congress which provides audio books for the blind free of charge and was an invaluable resource to him for over 20 years.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, July 24, 2021 at 3pm at Christ Episcopal Church with Father Jim Elliott officiating. The family will hold a reception at 4:30pm at the Annette Howell Turner Center for the Arts. Condolences to the family may be conveyed online at www.mclanecares.com. Carson McLane Funeral Home.