A week ago, I took an unexpected flight to my hometown Salt Lake City to see my Dad who was suffering from Lewy body disease. After several years of gradual decline, during which we saw the disease take its toll on his strong body and sharp mind, there were signs that the end was very near. In his dependable wisdom and foresight, Matt moved up my previously-scheduled Christmas ticket and I left a few days early to say goodbye to Papa.
I was given a full day with Dad. He was unable to open his eyes or speak, but he could hear and responded with small movements as I read to him from the newspaper and from his own notes and journals. Among these was a list of lifetime goals. Nearly all of these he achieved, including “live to age 70”. Dad died the next evening, in his sleep, in his own home, surrounded by family, at 72. What he did with those years was always impressive to me, but only after this week’s memorial services did his impact really sink in. Thousands of people were influenced by Bob Coles. Many of those in a deep, life-changing way. But before I say more, I’ll leave you with Matt’s excellent obituary which does much better justice to his legacy than I can. My own personal experiences and photos will come soon.
From the time of his birth on May 23, 1934, to his death on December 12, 2006, Robert Joseph Coles left an indelible impression on the multitude of people who knew him.
As a child on the Avenues, he was the marbles champion of Ensign Elementary, and he organized sports leagues with several friends he would retain for life. He had two dear younger sisters, Annette Coles Dunford and Julie Coles Moore, and attended Bryant Junior High and West High School in Salt Lake City. He identified closely with the Swedish culture and loved the people he served during his LDS mission to Sweden from 1953–55. The Swedish Group of his former missionary companions still meets monthly, and he visited converts during several trips to Scandinavia, including a memorable visit with his wife and all five of his grown children in 2000. After his mission, he wrote for the Daily Utah Chronicle and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Advertising and Journalism at the University of Utah. Bob was a reporter for the Deseret News from 1957-59 and an editor of several trade publications such as Intermountain Contractor and Intermountain Industry.
He married Solveig Johansson on November 29, 1962 in the Logan LDS Temple. He loved her deeply and completely. “She’s as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside” and “she lights up my life,” he said. Bob started Utah Holiday in 1971 in the basement of his home without outside investment and grew it into an influential, award-winning magazine before he sold ownership in 1987 and resigned as editor in 1989. Professionally, Utah Holiday was his most meaningful and satisfactory creation. He often regretted the demise of the magazine, but he said his father, Joseph William Coles, taught him: “The important thing is the process, not necessarily the end result. It is often the struggle and the sacrifice that satisfies.” He then acted as director of communications for Beehive Travel, allowing him opportunities to see the world, and later worked for the Garff Automotive Group. He served as secretary of the Salt Lake Rotary Club, and was a member of the board of directors of the University of Utah Alumni Association, the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy.
His service in leadership positions in the LDS Church revealed him to be a marvelous counselor. Many of those who met with him as bishop of the University 14th Ward and Ensign 4th Ward told him, “Bishop, you saved my life.” Another said, “He has not been afraid to climb mountains with us, play softball and drop occasional pop flies, to weep and laugh with us, or share his weaknesses. He has been human and, in that humanity, has been a wonderful example.” In heartfelt letters to his children, he advised tolerance of those difficult to love and helpfulness through service to others. Maintain perspective and a sense of humor, he wrote. He taught a reverence of God and Jesus Christ and a familiarity with their teachings. In all of this, his example outshone his words. His love of nature was captured in his landscape photography and fostered on hikes in the canyons of Utah, frequent vacations to Sun Valley, Idaho, and outings to the cabin his father built in Silver Fork.
The tender care he provided his father and his mother, Florence Bird Coles, in their dying days was surpassed only by Solveig’s exceptional caregiving as he struggled with the debilitating effects of Lewy body disease. Even as the brain disease robbed him of his athletic ability and remarkable gifts of verbal and written expression, it unveiled a tender, submissive side of Bob few previously knew. He loved to hug and play with his nine grandchildren. Thanks to the IHC Hospice staff, dear friends, and volunteers for kind caregiving in the final years.
Donations in Bob’s name can be sent to the Perpetual Education Fund of the LDS Church. Personal messages and memories can be posted in the comments area below and they will be forwarded to Solveig and the family.
Photos from Dad’s life »
Photos by Dad »
Photos from the funeral »
Audio from the funeral »
Salt Lake Tribune article about Dad and Utah Holiday »
Scans from Utah Holiday magazine »
A dream about Dad »
One of Dad's good latter days »