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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 19, 2005

Nora Stewart Coleman, 85, former first lady of American Samoa

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser East Honolulu Writer

For much of Nora Stewart Coleman's 85 years, she dedicated her life first to her duties as a wife and mother and the community at large. For herself, she took only what was left.

The Hawai'i-born mother of 13 and wife for 56 years to the late Peter Tali Coleman, former governor of American Samoa, died May 11 in Honolulu.

Family and friends may call from 9:30 to 11 a.m. tomorrow at St. Patrick's Church, 1124 Seventh Ave. A Mass of Christian burial will be at 11 a.m. Graveside services will be at 12:45 p.m. at Diamond Head Memorial Park. No "fa'a-samoa," or Samoan rites, will be held at the family's request.

Coleman was an avid advocate of education for American Samoa children and spoke to church and women's groups on the topic at every opportunity.

"She was a great lady," said daughter Aumua Amata. "She placed herself last on the priority list. Her top priority was her church, her family and her community."

In the past eight years, when Nora Stewart Coleman retired from the public eye and had time to focus her sizeable energies on herself, she was able to renew her love of music and art in her Niu Valley home, said her son Richard Coleman.

"It was by choice that she stayed out of the limelight," Richard Coleman said. "She didn't feel the need to be something to others, so she concentrated on her music and dabbled in art. Her life came full circle."

Her life as the wife of four-term American Samoa governor Peter Tali Coleman spanned his 40-year public career that many credit for bringing American Samoa into the 21st century.

Her years there were spent in dignity and graciousness, said Papaliitele Violet Richmond, the governor's former executive assistant.

"Mrs. Coleman was a woman who upheld herself with dignity and pride while standing behind her husband," Richmond said. "She was a loyal and faithful supporter of her husband. She was like a mother to the governor's staff."

Coleman attended Sacred Hearts Academy in Kaimuki and graduated with honors in 1938 from Kamehameha (High). She attended the University of Hawai'i for a year until she was forced to leave to help support her family. She married Peter Coleman in 1941.

In 2003, a most unusual event happened to Nora Stewart Coleman. Her Kamehameha class ring that she had lost in the surf at Waikiki in the 1930s was returned to her by a woman from Virginia.

Apparently the ring had been found by the woman's aunt on vacation in Hawai'i in 1996.

Amata said her family lived in Samoa and Micronesia until the eighth grade, when they were sent to school in Hawai'i. Gradually the family settled in Niu Valley.

"Hawai'i became the central point for us," Richard Coleman said. "Especially since 2001 when my mother began to refuse to fly anymore. We'd all come here from our homes in Saipan, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Texas."

Reach Suzanne Roig at sroig@honoluluadvertiser.com or 395-8831.