Edmund (Ned) Coffin
• Strafford, VT
Edmund (Ned) Coffin of Strafford, VT, entrepreneur, political activist, father of five and grandfather of thirteen, died peacefully at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center on Monday, April 18. Ned and his late wife of fifty-eight years, Violet Bodman Coffin, moved to Strafford in 1974, and became valued and loved members, mentors, and leaders in the Strafford community. Born in New York City in 1921, Ned attended Yale College and graduated early to attend language training school and serve in the Navy in WWII. His military career began with Naval intelligence in Washington, D.C.; he went on to serve as First Lieutenant aboard the U.S.S. Bennington in the Pacific and then in Japan. Ned received an MBA from Harvard in 1948, and set upon a long and successful career in international business. He began with the Pond's Extract Company in Brazil, followed by a brief stint in Washington, D.C. with the Mutual Security Agency. He then managed overseas sales for Willys Overland in Asia, Africa and Europe. Filled with New Deal spirit, Ned folded development ideals into selling Jeeps, pioneering ideas about local content—local assembly, local parts— into the business.
In 1963, Ned turned to the newly decolonized Africa. As Nigeria opened up to American business, Ned and a business partner took the opportunity to establish a chicken farm in Nigeria, raising 30,000 chicks weekly for a growing broiler and egg market. The nationalization of businesses in Nigeria in the early 1970s turned Ned's sights back to the U.S. Coincidentally, Ned and Vi, who lived on a horse farm on Long Island, NY, had visited Huntington Farm and were so taken with Strafford's lovely valley that they wanted to stay. In 1974 they moved to Strafford. In Vermont, Ned focused his entrepreneurial skills on starting Enertech, a wind energy company in Norwich, VT, with two partners. Recognizing the need for affordable housing in the Upper Valley, he also bought and renovated a number of apartment buildings in White River Junction and West Lebanon. As Vi grew active in local politics and became the state Democratic Party Chair, Ned became a full-time partner in her political life. He saw the need for better voter files and was instrumental in building a county and then statewide data base that helped local and statewide candidates identify likely Democratic voters. He also joined her in recruiting candidates for the state legislature. For both of them, part of the fun of statewide political work came with visiting new communities (usually via back roads) and getting to know the state from the ground up. He was a treasured mentor and nudge for many candidates and politicians. In addition to being a political matchmaker, Ned introduced his brother Bill—William Sloane Coffin, Jr.—to Randy Wilson of Strafford. Randy and Bill married in 1984. To Ned's great pleasure, they settled in a house across from them on the Strafford Common. While less outspoken than his brother, Ned shared Bill's ideals, and their late-in-life time together in Strafford was precious to them and their families. Ned immersed himself in the Strafford community; he was a friend to all, a mentor, comfort, counselor and kibitzer to many. Every generation was dear to him. He served as a Strafford "lister" for many years. He was a devoted member of the United Church of Strafford, serving on many of its councils and boards, singing in the choir, and participating and volunteering in The Lord's Acre events. He and Vi also started what would become a 10-year summer Town House series, which brought writers, political activists, environmentalists, educators and others to speak in Strafford. Ned contributed generously to arts programs in the Upper Valley, including Northern Stage. He delighted in the Osher Lifelong Learning institute at Dartmouth. Ned was enthusiastic and curious to the end. His final project was an essay about the political differences between Vermont and New Hampshire. The essay, "Vermont and New Hampshire: So Alike…So Different," is being distributed through the Strafford Historical Society.
He is survived by his sister Margot Lindsay, sister-in-law Randy Wilson Coffin, five children—Judy, Doug, Tad, Cris and Andy—and their spouses, thirteen grandchildren, many nieces and nephews, and his dear friend of many years, Lou Hance. They all hope to carry on his indomitable spirit.
A public memorial service will be held in mid-May in Strafford, VT and will be announced. In lieu of flowers, please consider gifts to the Strafford Town House, Barrett Hall, or Neighbors Helping Neighbors. The Boardway and Cilley Funeral Home, Chelsea, VT is assisting with arrangements.
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Published by The Burlington Free Press on Apr. 21, 2016.