In a remarkable feat, Zill Barton Coleman recently put together a streak of more than 75 years without having a bad day. The streak began in Miami, Oklahoma, when he was born to Fay and Eva LaVelle (Mast) Coleman, and ended quietly at his home in North Little Rock, where he lived with Athena, his loving wife of 26 years. While he would admit that during three-quarters of a century, he did have some bad moments, never did they amount to anything worth writing about here, and they were far outweighed by the good.
Like when he proved himself an athlete at Norman High School (class of ‘66) and earned a football scholarship to attend East Central University, or when he transferred to the University of Oklahoma to earn not only a bachelor’s degree, but also a master’s – an education that landed him in the prestigious management training program at the Missouri Pacific Railroad. In 1974, a former professor of Zill’s lured him away from the railroad to join Constantin Distribution Company in Central Arkansas. Zill eventually bought out the professor and transformed the company into Pinnacle Transportation Services.
But those are merely business details that overlook the nuances of what people loved so much about Zill, which is to say the nuances of what Zill loved about life.
He loved to travel and appreciated good food – oysters, soft shell crab, pistachio gelato, baklava, BLTs with heirloom tomatoes; and drink – Belgian-style beer, a good Sazerac, a mead he made using the honey he harvested from his own beehives.
New Orleans was his favorite and most frequent travel destination, but no matter where he went, he enjoyed learning about the local culture. When his health began deteriorating in 2010, and he could rarely travel, he found satisfaction in watching Japanese television. He also liked The Antiques Roadshow, MSNBC, and Oklahoma football. He very much did not like Fox News Network, pot pies, eggplant, social media, compliments, or taking credit for things. Which is why you can find no one in Milan or Manhattan who recognizes his contribution to the fashion industry: He wore Birkenstocks with socks long before anyone recognized the global trend it would become.
Zill was a pioneer in other ways as well. Like when he brought the first amphi-car to Lake Ouachita. He also owned and navigated an array of planes, boats, cars, motorcycles at various points in his life, several of which he eventually wrecked – bad moments – but walked away relatively unscathed each time – good days.
Despite his thrill-seeking nature, Zill possessed a subtle calmness that manifested itself in his joy of reading and an endless pursuit of knowledge. He was nearly always the smartest man in the room, but people would never know it because he didn’t care for braggarts and had no desire to be the center of attention. His privacy was important to him, which is why – in the most Zill Coleman way of doing things – he requested no memorial service.
But that doesn’t mean those who loved him won’t forever remember him as the determined teenager who built his first car out of parts. Or the college kid who paid for flying lessons by the
hour in between classes. Or the boy whose mother influenced his love of the water, and would become the accomplished SCUBA diving man who shared that love with his family. We will remember him growing asparagus in the back yard and tending to his potted plants on the patio, paying closest attention to his mandevilla and purple shamrock. We will remember him as a thoughtful father, a loving spouse, and a patient and playful Papou to his grandchildren.
In addition to his wife, Athena, Zill is survived by his son, Adam Coleman (Jennifer), his step-daughters, Arika Coleman (Chu Lai), and Liz Choate (Guy); his brother, Jim Coleman (Jan); his nephews, Paul Coleman (Lori) and Kelly Coleman; his grandchildren, Davis Coleman, Addie Coleman, Julian Lai, Lily Isabella Lai, Augustus Choate, and Magnus Choate, and many lifelong friends. He is preceded in death by his parents and his sister, Glynda Coleman.
We are so very grateful to Zill’s numerous doctors, nurses, therapists, and Baptist Hospice for their exemplary care, and especially our CNAs, David Livingston and Tiffany Turner.
In lieu of flowers, contributions in Zill’s memory could be made to Heifer International Honeybee Program, 1 World Avenue, Little Rock, AR, 72202
Arrangements by A Natural State Funeral Service 2620 West Main Street, Jacksonville, Arkansas 72076. 501-982-3400. Online guestbook available at www.anaturalstatefuneralservice.com