Woodrow ‘Lee’ Coleman 1953 – 2017



 “Lee” Coleman;  1953 – 2017

50 Hilliards

This has to start with the Hiram/Ruby Hilliard clan from the Winston/Kathleen area of Florida, near Lakeland.  A railroad family, Lee’s mom (Elsie) and my own (Marie) were two of the eight children (Irene, Eva, Ester, “Buddy,” Jack, Bob, Marie, and Elsie).  This cast was full of characters; good southern food, hard love, and heartfelt laughs; kinda like M&M’s, hard on the outside but really soft and good on the inside.

The families gathered almost every year for at least one holiday – ‘packs’ of kids would scamper through the grandparents home ‘slamming‘ the screen door on each pass; driving poor old “HP” nuts.  On those visits we shattered every semblance of peace and stillness that they had worked so hard to enjoy..  As too we are now learning as grand-parents ourselves; ‘LOVE’ to see them come; love to see them go.”

For us; they are the most wonderful memories in the best of this families cycle.

Being an air-force brat Lee’s family (The Coleman’s) traveled more than a lot – we envied them for their travels, so when they did make the reunions – we ran as wildly through the orange groves as we did our grandparents home.  With a new electric fence in the neighborhood we lured unsuspecting cousins into range – was more than a lot of excitement for our simple bunch.

Being close in age, Lee and I lost close contact through the years, yet having many things in common and parents to keep us informed; we were separate but acutely aware of each others whereabouts.

Through the years; funerals of those wonderful Aunts and Uncles added up; Lee made more than I and was always there when I did show

In the year 2000 Lee and his family visited our home in NC, wife Sandy, Westley, AAron and Lauren.  We had so much in common.  We spent a few days catching up on the years, extended family, and then out of kindness he left me a really nice leather jacket – he cared.

After that and from time to time, Lee would surprise me with a call out of nowhere “happy birthday Tom!” – I loved, and very much appreciated it.


Facebook arrived providing an easier avenue for us to reconnect even visiting with Lee several times over the past ten years; he shared his life with me.  While visiting,  we walked a mile or so to the beach at Jupiter stopping at the local thrift-stores along the way.  Lee shared stories of that extended family – increasing the admiration that I hold for Sandy. We joked about the past while skipping through the many interests and traits that we shared.

His occupation was aircraft interiors, and he was good at it – I suppose some of that hard shell of the Hilliard’s and Coleman’s had made him really good at what he did; quality control.  On one visit I rode along to Miami to inspect some aircraft seats for a customer – he was really tough on those guys finding things that I would have never spotted.  Lee was direct and “picky” for others to meet the expectations – great for his employer.

We were tough on our kids too.  Our fathers were are part of the ‘tough-love’ generation; instilling within us not to be “cry baby’s,” observe before speaking, and to do as told – without question. We were diligent employees and workers – for we expected to work our entire life – we were expected to exceed..

Well, we did the best we could with those; as grandparents we learned that ‘tough-love’ was easier to receive than to give; grandchildren easily became the soft-spot in our lives.

Lee came home early from his 6-month “project” in Texas, with throat cancer.  There’s no easier way to say it – no way around it.  Over the past year he and I communicated through text and private messages; his battle was real.  Lee; a “dreadful disease that I wouldn’t wish on anyone” (5/10/2017)

Lee lost that battle a month after turning 64, – in looking at a few of his last photos – I could see that Lee took his circumstance like a man. In my cousins eyes, I could sense a certain bitterness (comes from our family); who wouldn’t hate the burden this ‘dreaded disease’ puts on any family?

He wanted so much more time with his family.

One day I’m going to cry me a river, and its going to flow like the Mississippi.  My lifelong buddy and cousin, Lee Coleman; will be a large part of that current of tears.

Tough-love sucks.

The gathering was simple, where Lee and I had once sat discussing family and extended family – this family mingled; they were each remarkable.


Above are some of the original Hilliard links, Lees immediate family had multiple links – and it was really great to meet those that we hadn’t before – family from afar.


I understand why Lee was so proud of each…..

I didn’t take alot of pictures; I think I was somewhat in a daze with how fast the past year had come – and left this void.

If your wondering where Lee went afterward; well, I think that he rode home with each of us.



He, my wife Kim and I took a lackadaisical ride up A1A, stopping along the way to watch some guy put-in for a day of fishing with his spaniel

stopped to loot a thrift store or two


and even returned to the Castillo de San Marcos fort in St Augustine…….

60 St Augistine

I think Lee’s presence reminded me that it’s not only years that pass along the way – so make time for those of your past. In Savannah we stopped and visited with a friend I hadn’t seen in 42 years, great visit – seeing ole buddies helps…

Lees presence made it home with me too, where I took him straight to the garage to see Dad’s old pickup


and even though it was a Ford I think there was common ground to be found;

Last May Lee also told me “I’m going to fix up a van to travel… would love to see the lake house.



Yep, losing those ‘links’ to our past – is the worst part of growing up.

What’s going on Tom?

In recent conversation a good friend asked ” hey Tom, Whats been going on? Haven’t noticed any posts of late”….. got me to thinkin.

Absolutely true, I really haven’t posted here in a trip around the sun, no excuses.  I like to tell folks (when they ask) that I’ve kinda slowed my paddlin pace to “stop and feel the bottom” a while. Maybe I’ve been a little lazy; but about the same time simply trying to figure out just what rhythm life at 60  holds for these two little portholes.  Just feeling the bottom…….

In summarizing the past year or so;

Gray came through on his way to Charleston, SC for a friends wedding in May of 2016. Always good to see the young man that he has become; even if for a short while. Short visits tug at ones emotions but life calls and I understand – I did it too.  The world is ‘out there’ – beyond the vicinity of our little cove at Lake Cherokee.

Of course our world grows when Mom drops by with a peanut-butter cake for her ‘little’ buddy.

Our little universe grew again on the 4th of July 2016 when the Coates and Carrs came for the holiday’s.  There is not a better picture of that particular trip that sums it up better than the one above; a total ‘thumbs-up!’ holiday (thanks Mark/Freda).

Once again, Mom (GGma) came to visit her precious GK’s families – and to see those kid’s fly!!  Mom has always been an inspiration for each of us; she supplies the warmth that carries us.

The Albino Skunk Festival happens twice a year – a simple yet fascinating conglomeration of evolving bands emitting some fine music in a children friendly atmosphere.  What once started as a small Bluegrass festival has continued to nurture budding musicians towards finding their unique foothold among American tunes.  The Lil Smokies Band (from Montana) above is an example of the simplicity found – Billy Strings and the Dustbowl Revival are just a couple of the many favorites.  My sister Kristi and Bob also came to share a festival day and night with us…..

Then to Delaware for a month or so, why? stuff to do. Combined visit time for 2016 was 4 months! – just the right dose of North and South. 🙂 .

Christmas 2016; kids and coins.  It was a special time and nice ride to Colorado….1st night stop from SC was OK City – 6 degrees when we woke up.


Then two easy days to Albuquerque to pick up Gray/Licia . Uphill to PS – Joe/Judy’s and the Carr’s Cul-de-sac den – sure enjoyed the polar Christmas with the Carr’s.

Ending 2016 with a New Years visit at Scott/Patti’s in Kansas. Patti (aka “Scooter”) already had one foot-up (ankle injury) so we helped her with the other one…


Scott supported our efforts – “feet-up”

In February 2017 – we made a return R-U-V trip to Fisheating creek for a creekside visit with Al, Ava, and ole buddy “Hobbs.”

A ride to the Lake Harney property and a @77 mile Topside of the Suwannee Paddle in March; business trip.


Melissa and the boys stopped by the Skunk farm for a day amongst the Spring festivities in April….

Delaware and a @64-mile Pokomoke river Chesapeake Bay paddle in May

Where Kids Fly

The Coates  returned for some paddle time – and some great July 4 fireworks; twice the bang from the boat.

The great American eclipse of August 2017 was pretty neat too – sitting in the middle of the lake – day became night-like, and then returned to daylight once again…. Swallows came out, incandescent to fluorescent, and then back to normal.  Cool….

Also in August Nora Steur came from Cincinnati for a week with her friends –

At the same time we were blessed to have Mike and Beth come for the weekend. Hurting because you have laughed so hard is nothing new when these are around, it can happen. This visit was no different – thanks you two, we needed that….

Somewhere in here Gray ‘manned-up’ and bought a home for his family in Hawaii. I’m kidding when I say that because Gray (he’s a ‘do-er’) and Licia have set an awesome path pretty much on their own in managing their lives for a family in this world.  Kim and I are very proud of each one of our children and the adults they have become.


In September, Mom slowed just long enough to celebrate her 89th birthday – it would be difficult to adequately convey what she has meant to her entire family, she has set the example for us in so many ways. Love you Mom, thanks

Fall 2017 brought another Fall Skunk Festival, had a great time. There’s a thing where all the folks can/will holler “FES-TI-VALL!!” whenever the enthusiasm strikes them (really good band, vibes, or just to get it out!) anyway, it works pretty well….

So this little guy (Abe) wandered by with his family and just couldn’t make those “FES-TI-VALL” words work right – but he could look straight up into the sky and yell something that sounded like “CHI–HEN-BOES!!” so whenever he and I crossed paths during the festival… it was “CHICKEN-BONES!!” to the sky…

Life is good, and festivals can be fun too.


Hurricane Irma ripped through Florida and Al and Ava were spared major damage – they came to the foothills for a week in October. A warm spell delayed the leaves from making the fall color on time, but we had a great time with sunset cruises, College football, and just hanging around at the dock – even had a few of those hearty gut hurting laughs – they sure help (thanks Ava).


Well that’s whats been going on and sorry for the abbreviated version – but just maybe this exercise will help me get back into making some notes about a very ordinary life surrounded by some pretty extraordinary people…


thank you for your interest

Otis Takes An R-U-V Vacation

Otis takes a  ride.


Yeah, I know – a cat.  This past fall ‘Otis’ wandered up  and after spending the $ to have him ‘fixed;’ we’re giving him every opportunity to ‘fit-in,’ so far he has passed all his exams.  Anyway, –


a cat wandered up…. other than that it’s been a quiet winter in the foothills of South Carolina.  More often than not it was comfortable weather, the frigid weather held back until the first part of January – then we got a dash of it!


Within it all I have nothing to complain about – i didn’t have to pull out my ‘jong-johns,’ the pipes didn’t freeze, and nothing broke.  Another month, another set of bills – seasons’ pass, and another sunset hits the mountains; ‘Life’ is good.

In this rotation is February – a time to trade any sense of ‘cabin-fever’ for another snowbird ‘loop’ through Florida – my homestate.  It’s ironic growing up hating tourists because of their impact on our little town, and now having an “R-U-V!” But at at this time also (life at 60 ) it fits, so well, why not?


btw; one of the GK’s (James) calls our RV an R-‘U’-V, James is a pretty smart guy, so with this our ‘Little Bessie‘ is now considered a first class “R-U-V!”.

1602 - Plains Ga

On last year’s ‘loop’ I wanted to ride the backroads of W Georgia to Florida; long story short – it didn’t happen (‘fluid’ decisions). We stay off of the interstates as much as possible; this year in the direction of South Georgia and Plains, Ga – home of Former President Jimmy Carter.  I always liked this guy – still do, he’s a good man.  So we spent the day ‘lolly-gagging’ around the town stores and finding out first-hand just how much he is thought of as ‘a friend’ and neighbor.  He has a lot of friends.


The old brick elementary school he attended has been preserved by the National Park System, really nice – and a place where the halls can easily remind one of where real ‘friendships’ begin.  The above picture was on the wall – I liked the character and took a picture of it.


Sometime in the night Otis came out of his nest, looked around – then curled up and went back to sleep. Kims done a good job training him..  His eating/cat activities were normal with no messes.  When morning came we continued southward on Ga Highway 19  into Florida with a stop at Fanning Springs.

The Suwannee river at Fanning Springs

The Suwannee river at Fanning Springs

Fanning Springs is a clear spring along the Suwannee River that I’ve paddled through several times – and it was a good time to show Kim where’d I been the past several years.



I was really hoping for Kim to see some Manatees, and surprisingly we found 6 or seven ‘lazing-around’ just below the clear spring waters in the thin February sunshine.


Next stop along the way was to see an old friend, Dan Goddard (FMHS 70).  I’m a ‘drop-in’ kinda guy, and Dan is always good with it.  A schoolmate, we chatted as we walked through his back-yard (‘bone-yard‘) of old-cars and rusty projects – I’m into that stuff too; just don’t have a pace to put it – so I enjoy others stuff.  Old-friends are good; and after a mmmmeaty burger and a beer at nearby Willards with Dan – Kim and I were off to Rainbow Springs.


We had five days and four nights at Rainbow Springs State Park waiting. Long enough to get comfortable, and a good place to get Kim in a kayak – on the water.  The North Carolina Carr’s gave us a tandem-kayak for use at the lake, and when Kim said she would get out in it; I threw it on the trailer (along with my solo) and took them both with us.


The Rainbow river


If I ever have another home; along the Rainbow river would be the place.


The place worked well for getting her introduced to a kayak, and I think she liked the clear water.  The Rainbow Springs ‘head’ is about a mile upstream, an easy paddle so we worked our way up river – then with our ‘feet-up,’ completed a very mellow hour-long trip back to the campground ramp.


I was wondering if I could get her back in (kinda hoping not so I could solo) but I blew it when I mentioned there was beverage at the other end.  The following day we paddled (lightly) with the current a few hours down the Rainbow river to the Withlacoochee.  A little further from there was the Blue Gator tiki bar – and next door was a shuttle (at our convenience) back to the Park.


– it is true, at the end of the Rainbow – was a cold little cup of gold.


Oh yeah, and Otis – he figured right in to this park-life stuff.


After a week at Rainbow, we hit the bacroads once again – down the road stopping to visit a cousin, Ellen (Lakeland/Kathleen is family land, Mom’s side).


Ellen’s got a neat little place off Scrotum rd (Socrum rd) with just the right amount of livestock – and a little gator in her pond.  Julie, her daughter is the only female gator-trapper for the area and drops one off on occasion. Good to see Ellen and her other daughter Ginger whom was enjoying a birthday.


To “Creek Week”


Fisheating Creek


and some paddlin time…


The goal for the past year was this ‘week at the Creek’ – with friends.


Al and Ava (FMHS 71) came in for a few days, and ‘pitched’ in – right beside us.


It was a time to enjoy what a place and folks have in common…..


(now Ava, was that mouse really that big??)



and there was plenty of ez time within the weekday peace to take a paddle….


gator watch


maybe even reflect,


or share a laugh


Life can be, a tire swing – if you let it.


Kim paddled the waters too


even got some gator watchin time in


Of course there were a few other stories floating around the camp too…


another good thing about old friends


It was a simple time, with the best of friends


Kim and I remained through the weekend, as the crowds came – weekend at the creek changed, it was like a festival without the band.


Full of people and their activities – all the canoes and kayaks were rented out, the campsites were full – even had a ‘Joe Dirt’ wedding taking place. I was impressed how the staff kept up with everything.  We just rode the bikes around and watched it all in amusement, kinda like hanging around a boat ramp – cheap entertainment.

Sunday was the best though; we watched as the crowds departed…..


Monday the peace and tranquility of the creek was back; later that day we headed North


Otis’s first ride in the RUV was a positive; he operated at the same pace as everyone else and fit in just fine.


 “….can’t we all just get along?”


link; Tom Haynie

A Sister Cycles Home


Life’s a Journey;  Janis cycles across our country

.1957-12 tom01

While I’ve been playing my sister’ Janis has been in the desert of Afghanistan the past 6 years supporting our servicemen – Bagram.


The experience of our soldiers along with those in support of the effort, the hostile territory where they ate, slept, and mingled – created bonds of comradeship that the lucky ones will carry with them forever.  As with the warriors of all generations scars remain; souls have been touched, lives have changed; memories linger.

64 tomjan64

My sister is but another returning with realigned dreams

Simply put, my sister has been living in a shipping container in Afghanistan for more than 6 years. Janis is scheduled to return to the US in the first weeks of August.  In communication with her, she wants to take a few days off in California to ‘get her feet on the ground,’ to re acclimate – before returning to the east coast via bike; cycling back into the life that she departed.



Within my career at the Asheville Fire Department we learned of such things called ‘debriefings.’ A debriefing is intended to help one cope with ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ events.  As a firefighter I experienced a few of those events, and debriefings.  Janis’s idea of that same process is somewhere within the effort of peddling from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Within this effort, she desires to honor all of our warriors along with those she has encountered through her years in Afghanistan.

The more I thought about it, the more I liked her idea – it made sense.

Janis has mentioned that the experience has been a ‘life changer’ – adding further that her ride will reflect appreciation for those agencies that continue the support as many soldiers rehabilitate back onto society.  Folks along the way will be reminded of the Fisher Foundation as well as the Wounded Warrior Project in reestablishing the lives affected.

Janis’s personal challenge; her ‘debriefing’ and ‘calibration’ of sorts; will be a prompt to us all to remember those sacrifices.


The Pacific Ocean in California, to the Atlantic in North Carolina; 3100 miles, in real time – peddling her bike.

Early on I readily mentioned that I would support her effort (I love the ride) with my truck and trailer –  my next months are a minor sacrifice in comparison to her efforts/resilience, and experience.  My personal belief is that along the way, we will all be reminded too of how great our country really is.

For the ride I’m thinking that she will have three important benchmarks,

  1. first; the first thirteen days ((making a habit) completed 8/26/2015)
  2. second; crossing the mountains of Colorado (completed 9/6/2015)
  3. third; the Appalachians (completed)

The likelihood of many other challenges along the way are high.

Janis has been able to keep her legs and mind in shape – our initial concern is more with her saddle (maybe a pillow will help). In the beginning we planned thinking a minimum of 50 mpd, but I’m really not sure what it takes to find peace with six years of another country fresh in your mind – we’ll keep you posted.


Shortly I will load her bikes and equipment then blast west across the US.  In reality I really look forward to the adventure, the scenery – and being part of hopefully more than one persons re acquaintance with this great country we call home.

As this ride materializes in the upcoming weeks I will add some links intended for contributions for those inclined – hopefully with a side-note recognizing Janis’s effort.  She seeks no personal acclaim and is using her personal funds for the trek.  A facebook page for daily updates (link here), and a blog page for more long-term information will come into play shortly.

Please join us, but most importantly think of all those families and warriors who continue to live those sacrifices for us…..

Help our soldiers at;  http://www.teamfisherhouse.org/site/TR/AllEvents/3rdPartyFundraisers?px=1038808&pg=personal&fr_id=1290


“Miles of smiles” she says – yet I understand the underlying emotions involved……….

Facebook link 







Link to some of the journey pictures