Monday, December 17, 2012

Kenneth Byron Coolidge 1936 – 2012

MAN, husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, brother, brother-in-law, uncle, and FRIEND; Ken Coolidge, above all, was a human being. All the other accomplishments in his life pale by comparison to what he did for and with people; those close to him and complete strangers.

Coolidge succumbed to cancer after a short struggle. He was 76.
Michael Coolidge, his son responded to an e-mail request for details of his father’s life. I present it here, because it is as complete, concise, and contains all the things I had learned about Ken, but had faded in my memory because of vibrancy of the immediacy of his life when you were in his presence overwhelms the details:
Ken was born in Manchester, New Hampshire, 5 November, 1936, to Ann Gladys Harris, a newspaper woman, and Theodore Coolidge, a professional boxer, who had a varied military, then civilian career, Ken grew up in the newspaper business as his parents owned a weekly newspaper. He grew up in Newmarket, and moved to Somersworth for high school.
His recruiter uncle enlisted him in the Naval Reserve at 17 and he went to submarine school. He got a degree in English from the University of New Hampshire in 1960. Ken and Mariette St Pierre were married 7 February 1959. Their first child, Michael, was born in March 1960, just as Ken went into the Air Force and pilot training. By the time Sharon came along in August 1962, Ken was in Nav/bomb training. His first operational assignment was in the B 66 at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, South Carolina, just in time for the Cuban crisis. Ken also did his first tour in Southeast Asia from Shaw. He did two tours in the F4 Phantom in England for a total of seven years with a return to Southeast Asia in between. Then one day in 1975, his career took an abrupt change of direction when he was declared a cop. He went to Moody Air Force Base as chief of police. Three years later he got his Pentagon assignment -- only they decided that USAF Security Police Headquarters was now in Albuquerque, New Mexico! He also joined the Albuquerque Reserve Police Force while there.
He retired from the Air Force in 1982 and immediately joined a company called California Plant Protection. They moved to Camarillo Calif. as a regional director. CPP provided security for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and later purchased Pinkerton to become the largest Security Business.
In 1994, Ken left Pinkerton to start a company of our own; doing mostly guards at US Embassies overseas. That kept us busy until he was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1997. He handled the treatment well and it seemed to do the job until New Years Eve when we learned the cancer was back. Ken underwent a stem cell transplant early in 1998; after that we decided to make the most of each and every day and succeeded.
We are blessed with wonderful children and their fabulous spouses, 7 amazing grandchildren, as well as 2 great grandchildren and one more on the way who will surely be even more amazing than their parents!
I have left out many things, from Ken’s additional education, his military awards and decorations, amazing trips and adventures, but most of all the wonderful people who so blessed and enriched our lives.
Ken took enormous pleasure in everything he did. His cup always ran over!

So, What’s Wrong With This picture?

This is one of the last pictures I took of Ken and his wife of 53-years, Mariette, at the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony in May, for their grandson Alex Kingsley.

I chose this picture because it shows how Ken saw himself. If this is not a portrait of pride, you’re not going to find one anywhere else. Ken was extremely proud of his entire family and he is one of the few people who, when talking about his family, you didn’t need a scorecard to keep up with the players. From the way he so artfully told stories, you always knew exactly of whom he was talking.

The stories he told always had a flair about them; he found humor, pride and joy in his offspring.

This picture also shows the pride he had in his public service. He loved to fly! The Air Force would send him and other crewmembers up into hostile skies in multi-million dollar jets to go find and or make trouble over enemy lines. The necktie is covered with F-4s the lapel pin is also of an F4. It was the plane in which there was only one other crewmember, the pilot; it offered him the greatest opportunity to practices his skills, and it gave him the best view. His specialty was navigation, with a sub-specialty of reconnaissance, taking picture for planners of air strikes to analyze for future missions and for analysis of the effectiveness of earlier attacks. He had flown the RB-66 as navigator and was a navigator-training officer.

He has a camera around his neck. He always wanted high quality pictures and he made sure he got it.

He was not one of those often-typical fathers who have hundreds of pictures of the first-born, then fewer and fewer pictures of the other children as they came along. He was more likely to have more pictures as the grand children came along. I didn’t get to see too many pictures of his great grandchildren, but I sure heard about them.

After his family and his national service, he never looked at change as a set beck, but as a challenge. When the Air Force took him off the flight line and assigned him to a desk, he quickly realized it didn’t have a tail number, controls, or switches, and levers, so he set about learning how to be a Chief of Police.

It is quite a switch when you think about it. You are suddenly the boss in a job you’ve never done. He joined the Albuquerque Police Department Reserve program as much to learn about civilian policing as he had for his real quest to learn more so he could put his experiences into his work. He was then the wordsmith for writing Air Force wide security policy and understanding the realities of the street made him cautious about writing rules that could be carried out.

He and I became partners patrolling the streets, mostly because I allowed Reserve Officers to drive the patrol car.

Along the way he had obtained a master’s degree in counseling and put it to great use.

He prepared himself for the civilian world, in part to share his passion for flying, by becoming a certified flight instructor. I became his first student. He was not really that hard to teach how to teach.

In one of those nervous moments, while practicing night landings, at a small private airport, where turning on the runway lights was controlled by clicking the aircraft radio, we got around to practicing the problem of approaching a runway where the light went out after the set time or as an emergency procedure. To try to break the tension I was experiencing I asked a stupid question. “what do you do if you turn on the landing light and see something on the runway you don’t like (I was thinking an airplane, without lights, or a deer)? Ken’s answer, ”Turn off the light.” It broke the tension and snapped me back to reality – land beyond the obstruction or go around.

His humor was always on the surface, it wasn’t biting, but he would nip you.

He was always good counsel and a great listener. However, the true mark of his friendship was best demonstrated in those rare times he sought out my counsel, because he knew I had experience in the subject he was just entering.

We were good friends and enjoyed each others company. He also was a rare individual were the other people who were his friends, were instantly your friends also.

He was a faithful supporter of my efforts in the on-going battle to improve government. He always advocated a firm letter to open the challenge against a governmental encroachment on civil liberties and personal rights. His suggest draft was right to the point. (For my readers who don’t mind his eloquent, yet accurate choice in the use of the English language, click on the lightened area below to see his word choice).

Dear Sir,
FUCK You very much! Strong message to follow!
Love and Kisses

He will be placed to final rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

I made this personal, but I believe everyone Ken knew has an equally compelling story.

If one believes in Heaven, then I’m sure Ken is already signing up angels to take his flight navigation course for those new wings.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this blog. You can read my reaction on Facebook by looking up user Mark Werlein. Ken was an inspiration to me. Also, he told me the "Fuck you very much, strong message to follow" strategy. I laughed so hard I cried. What an outstanding gentleman!