Sunday, December 21, 2008

Obituary: Thomas E. Coleman - Class of 1910


Funeral Thursday for Industrialist

Thomas E. Coleman, 70, president of the Madison-Kipp Corp. and a dominant figure in Wisconsin and national Republican affairs for three decades, died of cancer at his home at 735 Farwell dr. shortly after 11 a.m. Tuesday.

His wife, Katherine, the family physician, and day nurse were with Mr. Coleman when he died.

Funeral Thursday
He had been hospitalized several times in the past several months bur remained alert and in good humor to the hour of his death.

The funeral will be held at 10 a.m.Thursday in St. Paul's Catholic Chapel, 723 State st. Members of the family requested that flowers be omitted.

The Fitch-Lawrence funeral home is in charge of arrangements.

Mr. Coleman is survived by his wife, the former Katherine Head; two sons, Reed, 427 Summit rd., and Dr. Thomas H., Denver, Colo.; a daughter, Mrs. Katherine Foley, Winnetka, Ill.; a sister, Mrs. Leo Luenschloss, 418 Marston ave.; and 15 grandchildren.

A brother, Joseph A. Coleman, who had been vice-president of Madison-Kipp Corp., died four years ago.

Only One Office
Thomas Emmett Coleman held only one elective public office in his life -- president of the village of Maple Bluff.

But for a period of more than 30 years he exerted a stronger and more continuing influence on the Republican party in Wisconsin than any other individual.

He was "Mr. Republican" of Wisconsin virtually from the time he plunged headlong into the successful campaign of Walter Kohler Sr. for governor in 1928 until his active participation waned in the late 1950s.

Mr. Coleman's political ability and diligence (and called it drudgery") extended to national political affairs.

He was a presidential delegate for Harold E. Stassen in 1948.

He was floorleader in Chicago in 1952 in the valiant by unsuccessful bid of the late Sen. Robert A. Taft (R-Ohio) for the GOP presidential nomination at the National convention.

National political writers hailed him as a man of "political precision" with an uncanny knack of analysis of the political future.

He was known in many quarters, particularly by members of the opposing political parties, as "Boss" Coleman.

It was a title he disliked, but it lent him national prestige.

Furthermore, it was not a fair title. He had positive views. He never used a soap-box to espouse them. His greatest weapon for his cause was logic, and it was the only weapon he use.

He was not vindictive in situations where he was often in a position to exert himself to the detriment of others. The title of "Boss Coleman" in his case was completely opposite to the prototype of a political boss.

His Advice Sought
In a room, at a convention, on the street, at his factory, people sought him out. He never shouted his beliefs. He never made reprisals, although there were times when it was within his politically elected power to so do.

Mr. Coleman held certain powers in the party during two terms as state chairman and when he served as treasurer of the State Republican voluntary organization.

But his advice was sought and respected even when he did not hold one of the top offices in the state GOP voluntary group.

Mr. Coleman was the fountain from which the voluntary organization itself sprang. He was the leader in the movement to have the party endorse candidates for the office, a provision still in the voluntary organization's constitution despite occasional attempts to eliminate it.

The voluntary group was formed because the statutory Republican committee was limited by law in campaign expenditures.

Endorsement backer
Mr. Coleman fought successfully for endorsement because he believed the party should unite financially and generally behind a qualified Republican "regular," because Progressives and others were getting on the ballot under the Republican label.

It was his political formula to work to elect a candidate, not to defeat someone running against the candidate he favored.

He lost with disappointment, but he lost gracefully. After Dwight Eisenhower was nominated over Taft at the 1952 convention, Coleman was asked to and accepted a plea to aid Arthur Summerfield as Mr. Eisenhower's campaign manager. Summerfield later became postmaster general under President Eisenhower.

The Early Days
Mr. Coleman was born in Aurora, Ill., Feb. 23, 1893. His father was then branch manager of the McCormick farm implement firm there.

He was 2 years old when his father was transferred to Madison and the family lived in the old Fourth ward and later on Johnson st.

Mr. Coleman graduated from Central High School, where he played football and was a member of the track team. His father was made an official in the main office of the McCormick firm the year Tom graduated from high school.

The family moved to Chicago, where Mr. Coleman was graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in letters and science four years later.

While living in Madison, the elder Coleman had acquired some stock and later the presidency of Madison-Kipp Corp.

15¢-an-Hour Work
Each summer while he was in college Thomas Coleman returned to Madison to work at a punch or drill press at the Madison-Kipp for 15 cents and hour 55 hours a week.

When he finished his university work he worked as a coast-to-coast salesman for Madison-Kipp. In 1918, four years out of college, he became vice-president and general manager, in actual charge of the concern.

He succeeded his father as president of Madison-Kipp upon the latter's death in 1927.

The Madison-Kipp Corp. manufactures zinc and aluminium die castings, lubricators, and air-operated grinders.

The Political Years
Soft-spoken, slightly under six feet and slender, Mr. Coleman dressed conservatively and appear the exact opposite of the politician cartoonists usually draw.

From the time he volunteered his services on behalf of Walter Kohler Sr. in 1928 (at a time he did not know the elder Kohler personally), the Republican party made increasing use of the hard-working Madison Republican.

He became campaign director of the second Walter Kohler Sr. campaign in 1930, when Philip LaFollette was elected.

For many years Mr. Coleman served on the regular GOP organization's finance committee. Money was scarce and sometimes an entire campaign had to be run (for all the candidates) on less than $12,000, a sum which today would scarcely make a dent in television advertising for one candidate.

Resigns From Committee
Mr. Coleman finally resigned from the finance committee in the famous GOP "circus" tent convention near Baraboo on the Ringling farm in 1951. There was an intra-party disagreement and when Mr. Coleman walked out several other Republican leaders walked out with him.

Two weeks later the state charimanship was literally trust [sic] upon him. He insisted on resigning that post four years later, despite blandishments that he remain at that post.

In 1942 Mr. Coleman suggested that the party "ditch" Gov. Julius Heil, who was seeking nomination to a third term. The suggestion was not followed. Heil lost.

In 1950 Mr. Coleman was picked as one of the 24 national leaders working toward election of more Republican congressmen. This work brought him closer to Taft.

After Mr. Taft's death, Mr. Coleman headed a group to raise money for a memorial structure to the late senator in Washington, D.C.

A Fisherman
Mr. Coleman was an avid dry fly fisherman and made frequent trips to the northern part of the state with friends on fishing trips.

But he often told reporters that some of the finest fishing anywhere was the fishing off his lakeshore home on Farwell dr. in Maple Bluff.

After the 1952 presidential election Mr. Coleman's active participation in politics became less pronounced.

But at the state convention in 1956 he was one of the leaders in the movement to draft former rep. Glenn R. Davis (R-Waukesha) for convention endorsement over incumbent U.S. Sen. Alexander Wiley (r-Wis.), who was seeking reelection.

The draft succeeded and David got the endorsement. Wiley won the nomination, but there was general agreement the nomination would have gone to Davis except for Democratic crossover votes and 20,000 votes which went to an ultra-conservative from Milwaukee, Atty. Howard Boyle. David lost the nomination by 11,000 votes.

Originally published in the Wisconsin State Journal as a front page news story on February 5, 1964.

Note: Thomas E. Coleman's class year is based on information in the 1910 Tychoberahn

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