Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Katchen Coley, 1924 - 2013
Katharine Truman Smith Coley, 89, died on August 19, 2013 of pancreatic cancer at her Middletown, Connecticut home, surrounded by friends and family during her last few months. Coley was an ardent conservationist, co-founder of The Connection, one of Connecticut’s most successful social-service agencies, and the former wife of William Coley, Wesleyan University Professor Emeritus in English. Kätchen, as she was known, was also the mother of daughters Phyllis (Lissy) Dewing Coley, Professor of Biology, University of Utah and Katharine (Kitty) Lancaster Coley, Geologist and Naturalist, Austin Texas.
Coley’s father, Colonel Truman Smith, was a distinguished and lifelong military officer, a decorated veteran of WWI, and later a military attaché to Germany in the years leading up to World War II. His wife, Katharine (Kay) Alling Hollister Smith was both an active partner and confidant throughout their marriage, and a distinguished and intelligent woman in her own right.
Kätchen was born on May 15, 1924, in New York, where her mother had returned from Germany after the Smith’s first posting there. Kätchen was educated in her early life at U.S Army public schools during her parent’s peripatetic stationing in America between the wars.
In 1935, the Smith family moved back to Berlin, where Kätchen was educated privately, and at German and Swiss schools. Her father’s significant role in the appraisal of Germany’s intentions and capabilities ended at the beginning of hostilities in 1939, when he was assigned to head German Intelligence in Washington DC. There, Kätchen attended The Master’s School in Dobb’s Ferry, New York, and then Smith College, where she graduated in 1944.
Marriage to William Coley brought the couple to Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT in 1952, where he was a professor. The subsequent birth of two daughters began both a family and a pair of lifelong relationships of mutual respect and admiration. While her daughters were still young, she received a M.A in psychology at Wesleyan (1963) for her research on Navajo tribal government and then taught anthropology at Middlesex Community College.
Kätchen begin volunteering at Connecticut Valley Hospital, where her experiences with young heroin addicts would lead to the founding of The Connection, in 1972, with late friend Nancy Flanner. A small initial program of counseling and support has become a statewide, multi-million dollar social service agency, on whose board Coley remained for 41 years.
Coley’s outgoing nature, instinctive generosity and leadership also led her to begin, with other parents, The Independent Day School in Middlefield, Conn.
A long and distinguished career of environmental activism followed, one that would bring her to Washington to lobby Senators and Congressmen, to join with numerous Connecticut-based organizations as an environmental advocate, and to participate in the preservation of large swaths of open space in Middletown and elsewhere. She, along with others, spearheaded the preservation of the Wadsworth Mansion at Long Hill Estate, a Middletown landmark, and served on its Parkland Committee. She had an active role as conservation chair of the Middletown Garden Club, and served on the Middletown Conservation Commission, and the Steering Committee of the Connecticut Land Conservation Council.
Few have made such fundamental and sweeping contributions or have touched as many lives as has Kätchen. To honor her and keep some of her dreams alive, we have established two funds. In the last few decades Kätchen has worked tirelessly to preserve local landscapes rich with beauty, history and time. Thus the Kätchen Coley Conservation Fund has been created for the preservation and enhancement of open space in Middletown and adjacent towns. (Please make checks payable to CFMC - Katchen Coley Conservation Fund, Community Foundation of Middlesex County, 211 South Main Street, Middletown, CT 06457). Kätchen also believed that many people, although currently struggling, could be valued members of society if only given a second chance. So, in tribute to her extraordinary vision in co-establishing The Connection in 1972, the Kätchen Coley Society has been established to give successful participants a hand up (please make checks payble to The Connection Fund, c/o Kätchen Coley Society,100 Roscommon Drive, Middletown, CT, 06457).
A service to celebrate her extraordinary life will be held at a later date and announcements will be sent out.