Robert Lucas “Bob” Coffey, a lifelong resident of Portland, Ore., died of complications of cirrhosis of the liver on Feb. 13, 2015, at the age of 70. Born in Salem, Ore., on March 10, 1944, to Gordon Bartholomew and Martha Louise (Lucas) Coffey, he was the great-grandson of a Umatilla Reservation Indian agent, and had an aunt who was a national champion rodeo and trick rider. More significantly, his parents were pioneers in the civil rights movement when they opened their home and provided transportation to black jazz musicians who performed in their dance hall, “Cottonwoods,” near Albany and at the Jantzen Beach dance hall, at a time when blacks were denied access to Portland hotels and taxi service. Thus it was that Bob remembered sitting as a small child on the knee of the great Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.
Bob attended Holy Redeemer Grade School in Portland, and graduated in 1962 from North Catholic High School, where he excelled in basketball, drama, math and English. In 1963 and 1964 he attended the University of Portland, performing in numerous drama productions. In 1965 he won an open poetry competition at Portland State University.
In the 1960s Bob was married briefly to Kathleen Mason. They had two children, Reidun and Jeremy, who were raised according to the Summerhill philosophy of A.S. Neill, by agreement reached during their parents’ very first conversation (over slices of an apple pie Kathleen was pulling out of the oven when Bob, on his way home from a Dubois Society meeting, stopped by the collective house looking for a friend). It was a mostly political, intellectual relationship that didn’t survive the challenges of marriage, but produced two extraordinary new human beings and many vivid memories.
Bob had a lifelong love of music. He worked for a time as a disc jockey for several Portland radio stations featuring classical, blues and jazz. He emceed the Mount Hood Festival of Jazz, and enjoyed playing rock, blues and improvisational jazz with friends and family on several instruments – at least one of which he mastered by pure, persistent experimentation. He also had a deep, rich, warm speaking voice, which gave his family much pleasure, especially when he read aloud to them.
During the Vietnam War, while awaiting the birth of their first child in Berkeley, Bob worked swing shift on an extruder machine for a California company producing plastic-lined foil containers for foods and beverage mixes sent to soldiers overseas. (Kathleen would send him off with a recycled aluminum TV dinner tray holding a homemade meal which Bob would heat up on the scalding hot extruder to eat during his lunch break.) Through the years he was also employed variously as a shoe salesman; a quality control inspector for a Portland welding company and for Lockheed-Martin, the airplane manufacturer in California; as a nightclub musician playing acoustical bass; as a U.S. Forest Service firefighter; and more recently as a movie extra. He also coached grade school and middle school basketball teams.
For his entire adult life he was focused on the alleviation of physical and mental discomfort – his own and that of others, often through pure comic relief, but by other means as well. Had he lived long enough to see it become a reality, he would have celebrated the legalization of recreational marijuana in Oregon, a cause he championed early on.
In addition to a diverse extended family of musicians, friends, artists and other eccentric geniuses, he is survived by his wife, Alexandra Papadakis Coffey; brother, Gordon Bartholomew Coffey Jr., of Brier, Wash.; sister, Martylou Plinski (Leo), of Atlanta, Ga.; his children, daughter Reidun Coffey MacGregor (Caleb), of Corbett and Tacoma, son Jeremy Joel Coffey (Chihiro Honda), of Portland, and daughter Morghan Carney, of Portland; former wife Kathleen Mason Coffey, of Cascade Locks; former partners Diane Ferguson and Tony Carney, each of whom welcomed his children into her life for a time; one granddaughter, Jamie Lee Inman (Travis Munson), of Yakima; one grandson, Preston Edward Inman (Lindsey Gagner), of Tacoma; one great-grandson, Tucker Travis Munson, of Yakima; four nephews and their children; and a stepdaughter, Lace Dill, who, with Alexandra and Jeremy, helped care for him in his final days.
He was preceded in death by his beloved grandmother Helen Coffey, his parents, one nephew and one grandnephew.
His playful, at times audacious nature, genial disposition, sharp mind, ready wit and verbal facility will be remembered fondly by those who knew and loved him.
His cremains will be interred in the Coffey family plot at Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Portland.
A memorial gathering is in the planning.
(Information provided by Kathleen Mason Coffey)
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