On May 31, Mississippi lost a great jurist, devoted citizen, and loving family man. Judge William F. Coleman passed away at his home in Madison at the age of 84. He left this earth as he lived his life—surrounded by family and still exercising his mind (he did the entire crossword puzzle in the paper the day before he passed—in ink). Judge Coleman served for 20 years as a circuit court judge in Hinds County. Even after he left the full-time bench in 1996, he continued to accept appointments from the Supreme Court to serve as a senior judge on cases around the state. At the celebration of his life at the Jackson Yacht Club on June 8, two Justices of the Mississippi Supreme Court outlined the many high-profile cases that Judge Coleman had handled and the professionalism he always showed in his courtroom. Judge Coleman had recently presided over such diverse matters as the election contest for the Mayor of Hattiesburg and the sentencing of Jackson County’s sheriff. The celebration was attended by numerous lawyers and members of the community who sang Judge Coleman’s praises as someone who was always fair and treated everyone with respect.
As a lawyer, I think I only appeared before Judge Coleman once—as a brand new member of the Bar. I remember being nervous about appearing before one of the most long-standing judges in the county. I don’t remember what sort of motion he heard, but I do recall that he treated me with utmost respect, despite my fumbling, new lawyer behavior. I really got to know Judge Coleman when I took up the hobby of sailing. Judge Coleman was a fixture by the Reservoir and was a master sailor. A former Commodore of the Jackson Yacht Club, he was well-known among the avid boaters who frequented JYC. I had the honor of sailing with him and his family several times. His passion for trimming the sails may have even exceeded his love of the law. He was an excellent teacher. It was also on the water that I got to know Judge Coleman as the patriarch of a fantastic family. Known as “Big Daddy” to his children and grandchildren, he always had a big smile for family and friends alike. He was certainly loved by all those who were around him. The fact that I learned some of the great lessons of sailing from a legendary trial court judge is one of the wonderful quirks that can only happen from practicing law in the state of Mississippi. Judge Coleman lived a full and deep life. He will truly be missed.