John Garland Coates
July 20, 1928 – March 28, 2021
John Garland Coates, a longtime resident of Haywood County, died on Sunday March 28 in Winston-Salem, where he had lived for the previous five years. He was 92 years old.
He was born in Caldwell Parish, Louisiana, on July 20, 1928, to Lonnie Lee Coates and Rosa McDaniel, one of seven siblings. As a boy and youth there, he was known as Garland. After he came to Haywood County, those closest to him, including his wife, Reba Lambert Coates, called him Coates, as if it were a first name, for reasons now unknown. In Louisiana, his family made a living as tenant farmers and schoolteachers. His mother died when he was 4 years old, and he was raised in part by Good Aunts.
Immediately after graduating from high school, he joined the United States Merchant Marine, in which he served during the final months of World War II. He was proud of the global travels that period afforded him. Later, he served in Korea with the United States Army, and for long afterward was a master sergeant in the North Carolina National Guard.
Garland first came to Haywood County with his close friends Harold Crawford and Russell Deaver from the Merchant Marine. It was there he met Reba, whom he first saw as a student waiting for the school bus, and it was there he stayed. For all his remaining life, he truly loved Western North Carolina, for its beauty and for the grace and generosity of the people who lived there. To the great grief of Garland and all her family, Reba died in the year 2000.
Garland spent his working years as a highly skilled engineer at Champion International paper plants in Canton and Waynesville. He could install, operate and maintain any piece of complex heavy machinery devised by man. Another great specialty of his was helping people. He dedicated much of his life to voluntary service with the Haywood County Rescue Squad, of which he was a founding member. In fact, he nearly gave his life for it. In the mid-1970s he was left in a coma after being thrown from the rear of a careering ambulance during an emergency run. He survived, but his hearing was permanently damaged, which became a source of anguish later in his life. Garland didn't keep a record of all the lives he helped to save through the selfless work he performed with the Rescue Squad, but it was a great many.
Garland regularly attended the First Baptist Church in Hazelwood. He remained quietly reverent throughout his life. He was a decent, respectful and fair-minded man. He and Reba were never heard by their sons to slur or otherwise demean people of another race or nation, either casually or with hostile intent. The poverty and deprivations he had witnessed Koreans suffer during the war affected him for the rest of his life.
Garland was devoted to his extended family, and for his entire life made an effort to know and stay in contact with his far-flung siblings and his many nieces and nephews, often driving many miles to visit or offer assistance if necessary. He was especially close to and enjoyed visits from his nephew David Coates and his wife Kay, of Rusk, Texas.
During quiet moments of their retirement in Waynesville, Garland and Reba liked putting together extremely complex jigsaw puzzles, and Garland made elegant frames for them from the old wood of a chestnut, a tree whose disappearance he sometimes mourned. When Garland's son John Philip Coates was serving in Iraq, Garland erected a large standing flagpole outside their house and tied yellow ribbons to a big hemlock tree when he returned. After Reba died, Garland took care of her brother, William Edgar Lambert, when he was in ill health. He and Ed watched many documentaries about World War II on the History Channel or from his own collection. In his spare time, he loved to feed birds and chipmunks, and especially the raccoons that came to his back door. He had a sourwood tree that was filled with pipevine swallowtail butterflies in the late summer, and he carefully defended the hemlock against the wooly adelgid. He had a patch of day lilies that he had lovingly brought from the house of one of the Good Aunts in Louisiana and called Aunt Mae Lilies. He became adept at cooking for himself, and always had a pot of fresh coffee going next to the stove. He always drank it black.
Later, Garland made the decision to move to Winston-Salem to be closer to members of his family, and he spent happy years at the Homestead Hills independent living center there. He was always a strong advocate of education, and at Homestead Hills he had time to read; in fact, he had an entire room in his apartment there outfitted as a private library, and he donated many other books to the center's own reading room. He was known to many as the man who religiously walked for an hour every day, rain or shine, even at the age of 90. He was known to many others for his friendliness and sense of humor. Everybody liked him.
Garland was spared infection with Covid-19, but the hardships, disruptions and isolation the virus imposed on residents of places like Homestead Hills had a devastating effect on both his physical and mental health. He was dealing with challenges common to his age, but during the pandemic he deteriorated alarmingly fast. In that sense, he and others like him should be called victims of the pandemic as well as those who actually caught the virus. Because of his condition, Garland never learned of the death of his son John in January of this year.
Garland was brother to Wayne, Webb, Aussie, Leroy and Ralph. His sister, Evelyn, was raised by another family, and her true identity was revealed only later in life. Garland outlived all his siblings, as well as his wife, Reba; his son John; and his brother-in-law, Ed.
He is survived by two other sons, Steven Lowell Coates of Brooklyn, N.Y., along with daughter-in-law Rachel Coates, and Joseph Wayne Coates of Cary, N.C., along with daughter-in-law Janice Coates. Garland considered Carol Coates of Winston-Salem, the widow of his son John, to be a daughter of his own. He is also survived by 4 grandchildren, Charlotte and Catherine Coates of Brooklyn, Thomas Calloway, Jr. (and Dina) of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, Jennifer (and Michael) Icenhour of Cary, and 6 great-grandchildren, Ashley Calloway (and Kenneth Perry, Jr.) of Midlothian, Texas, Thomas Calloway, III (and Anna) of Mansfield, Texas, Lexi Balduzzi of Palm Beach Gardens, Amy Icenhour (and fiance Carl Lechner) of Raleigh, N.C., Lauren Icenhour and Michael Grayson Icenhour of Cary, and 1 great-great-grandson, Riley Perry of Midlothian.
A memorial service will be held at the Garrett Funeral Home on Saturday April 17 at 2 p.m. Donations in Garland’s memory may be made to the Haywood County Rescue Squad: haywoodrescue.org/donate