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Irene Olivia Boothe Coleman, born December 14, 1926, in Smithfield, Virginia to the late Richard and Olivia Boothe, died peacefully on January 9, 2024, at Collingswood Rehabilitation Center with her daughter lovingly by her side.
Irene was always proud of her education during the days of segregation in Isle of Wight County as her teachers gave her models to follow and instilled that she would have to be twice as good to thrive professionally. Irene earned her degree at Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia and majored in education. Believing in lifelong learning, she took advanced courses at the University of Virginia, and New York and Columbia Universities. Irene returned to tidewater immediately upon college graduation to begin her career until she and her college sweetheart, Walter B. Coleman, were married in December 1948. To this union were born two daughters: Roslyn and Carolyn.
Irene accepted Christ and was baptized and joined Hill Street Baptist Church. Always a person who loved children, she started assisting with Sunday School while she was still in elementary school. Her religious maturation continued throughout her life.
Irene was a dedicated teacher and felt she could teach any child who wanted to learn. In spite of being certified to teach at multiple grade levels, she chose to span first through fourth grades because she wanted to instruct children, not subjects. She initiated an individualized reading program in which third graders chose books they wanted to read; recorded and assumed responsibility for using dictionaries and thesauruses to learn words they did not know; authored essays about their books; and created alternative endings. She also taught this class for the fourth grade to follow their progress on national tests. She also introduced “reading/thinking” skills as a fun activity to expand reasoning and critical thinking. Irene always believed that each student was talented and gifted in their own way and that it was her duty to help unlock doors that allowed all to celebrate victories. As the first Black teacher at Candlewood Elementary School, she insisted that the library needed a more diverse collection to ensure student exposure. Upon retirement, Irene and her friend Siham Eldadah (two senior citizen grandmothers) designed and had Montgomery County establish “My Proud Culture” to encourage students depict and share aspects of their cultures so that they could learn and teach others about their heritage. The program is ongoing.
Irene was a family person and set a sterling example for others. Irene lived her religion by never turning her back on a child or a person in need. She maintained her southern hospitality and would say that there was a major difference between being “southern” and “country”; just as there was a difference between ”Smithfield Ham and country ham!”
Irene, a breast cancer survivor, enjoyed life and did not mind sharing her opinions! She was careful to say “yes, and” instead of “yes, but.” Bringing joy to others, she strove for a positive self-presentation and would reach out to help others. Her passion for love meant that she wanted people to feel good at the end of their interaction, even to the point of saying that disagreements spur thinking. Active in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and instructive during the world realization that all deserve a seat at the negotiation table, her daily prayers included world peace and not awakening to excessively negative newsbreaks.
At the time of her graduation from the “life on earth” school, Irene was a life member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., American Association of Retired Persons, and a founding member of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. In addition to Gaithersburg Presbyterian Church, she maintained affiliation with various community organizations.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that any charitable donations in memory of Irene B. Coleman be made to support local students in visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Checks may be made and sent to:
NAACP Montgomery County Education Committee
NAACP Montgomery County, MD, P.O. Box 2165
Rockville, MD, 20847- 2165