A memorial service was held Oct. 30 near the Graduate Living Center to commemorate the heroic actions of pilot Richard Coleman, who died one year ago this month.
Coleman was killed when he crashed his single-engine Cessna 210-L while trying to avoid the Medical Center and busy streets to land on a narrow strip of open space near GLC.
Senior and GLC resident Erin McCrossan spoke at the service. She believes Coleman’s courage was the reason that further disaster was averted last year.
“We are here in gratitude, knowing that his actions saved our lives,” she said. “Mr. Coleman’s life was taken in sparing others’ lives and that kind of courage, especially at the price he and his family paid, should not be forgotten, but admired and emulated.”
Coleman had planned to fly from Altoona, Pa. to Buffalo, but started having engine trouble at some point and changed his course to head toward Rochester. As it neared the field, the plane’s wheel struck the fence surrounding the field and the plane crashed into an embankment and burst into flames.
Coleman’s landing was immediately hailed as heroic because he was able to avoid hitting buildings and high-traffic streets.
The service opened with thoughts from McCrossan, and Father Brian Cool offered a prayer in Coleman’s memory.
UR planted a tree near the crash site in celebration of Coleman’s life and remembrance of his death. Coleman’s mother and children participated in the ceremonial planting.
“I think planting the tree by the site of the crash, as a ‘living memorial,’ will serve as a symbol of all the good that can come from tragedies like this one,” McCrossan said.
Interfaith Chapel Secretary Eileen Bruton helped organize the ceremony. She feels that remembering Coleman’s actions is important in maintaining perspective.
“I think as we become an increasingly faceless community – not only in the university but in the world in general – a tragedy such as this, and recognition of it, makes us stop and take note of some of the more important aspects of life,” she said. “All of us need a reminder.”
Many members of Coleman’s family were in attendance.
“Remembering [Coleman] in an academic setting is particularly important because Rick spent quite a bit of time getting his degree and really valued education,” brother-in-law Jim White said.
According to White, Coleman’s heroic actions were not unexpected. White spent time flying with Coleman and remembers having conversations about what he would do in an emergency.
“Rick was always concerned with putting his plane down in an area where he could avoid people,” he said. “Thank goodness he knew this area so well.”
Though White says that the family is still struggling to deal with their loss, he he knows that good memories of Coleman will always remain.
White believes that the UR memorial will allow the larger community to remember Coleman’s generosity.
“Rick was always the doer for other people,” he said. “His friends always remember him in that way. Now others will be able to see that, too.”
Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.