Tobin Coleman, who worked at WRKL in the 1980's, passed away on Sunday, August 13, 2006. Tobin was part of a sprited group of young WRKL employees back in the 1980's. Everyone who ever met him has a favorite Tobin story. He worked in the newsroom, on the air and as night editor. In later years, he moved from broadcast to print journalism, but never lost his sense of humor, which was necessary for survival back in the bad old days at the R. Most recently he was a political reporter for the Advocate of Stamford, CT.
Reprinted below is the article from the Stamford (CT) Advocate.

Tobin Coleman. Photo courtesy The Stamford Advocate


Advocate Capitol reporter Coleman dies at 49

August 17, 2006 STAMFORD -- Tobin Coleman, a longtime Advocate reporter who has covered the state Capitol for the past five years, died Sunday while running on the track at Foran High School near his home in Milford, police said.

A school security camera showed that Mr. Coleman, 49, collapsed while running. He was found by another runner about an hour later, Milford police said.

Mr. Coleman had no identification on him and did not drive his car to the track, Milford police said, and they had been trying to verify his identity since Sunday. They released a description of Mr. Coleman and his clothing to the media, hoping someone could provide information, police said.

A tip from a concerned neighbor helped police identify Mr. Coleman.

The cause of death was mitral valve prolapse, a heart condition, and cardiomegaly, or an enlarged heart, according to a spokesman for the state medical examiner's office.

Mr. Coleman's friends, his co-workers and colleagues, and political figures from Greenwich to Hartford were stunned yesterday to hear of his death.

"I am just absolutely thunderstruck," said Advocate Publisher and Chief Executive Officer Durham Monsma, speaking for many newspaper employees when they heard the news. "Tobin was a very professional, businesslike reporter, well respected by the people he covered. I heard nothing but good things about his work. He was regarded as a leader in the newsroom. It's really a tremendous loss given his wealth of sources and knowledge, particularly of the Connecticut political scene."

Joseph Pisani, senior vice president and editor of The Advocate and Greenwich Time, said "this is a tragic loss for our staff. As our Hartford correspondent, Tobin worked hard to bring the news of the Capitol to the people of lower Fairfield County. He was a fine journalist, a newspaperman who was unquestionably fair in a business that's sometimes accused of bias. I was always confident that if he was reporting on a neighborhood controversy or political contretemps that both sides would be fairly represented."

He and Mr. Coleman, as manager and union shop steward, respectively, sometimes found themselves on opposite sides, Pisani said. Mr. Coleman was steward of the newsroom union, UAW Local 2110.

"I often found myself across the table from him during negotiations, but despite our debates during contract talks, he never held a grudge," Pisani said. "At the end of the day, we were two newsmen doing our job. I shall miss him. He was a fine human being."

Mr. Coleman started at The Advocate in 1991 as a business reporter, then moved to the news department, where he covered city hall. He began covering state government in 2001.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell said her heart goes out to Mr. Coleman's family.

"Tobin Coleman was an especially talented reporter who had a way of asking insightful questions that helped illuminate topics of importance to his readers, whether it was mass transit, a legislative issue or a political campaign," Rell said. "He had a wry sense of humor, a reporter's healthy skepticism and a thoroughly professional attitude. The citizens of Fairfield County were better informed because of Tobin's reporting. I will miss his presence at the Capitol."

State Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, who knew Mr. Coleman for more than 13 years, said he was "the consummate professional" who was "insightful and fair" in his coverage of city and state politics.

"He covered some of the most hard-fought races in Stamford's recent history," said McDonald, noting the 1995 mayoral contest between Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy and then-incumbent Stanley Esposito. "That was an unbelievably contentious race with all types of charges and controversy. Tobin was able to effortlessly distill all of that information."

State Sen. William Nickerson, a Republican who represents Greenwich and parts of Stamford, said Mr. Coleman was "a reporter who operated without a lot of bluster and noise. He never allowed himself to be the story, and, with those characteristics, he was able to get inside a story in a very effective way and I admired him for that. He had a very marked presence in the Capitol. I'm sorry to have lost such a friend and person who I had a personal respect for."

Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy said Mr. Coleman covered him when Malloy was a member of city boards, years before he was elected mayor in 1995.

"I've known him since he started at the paper. He was an outstanding reporter and a gentleman and someone who will be absolutely missed," Malloy said. "I'm just shocked and saddened to hear of his passing. Really shocked."

When Mr. Coleman covered city government, Carmen Domonkos chaired the Fiscal Committee of the Board of Representatives and later became president. Mr. Coleman was trustworthy, which helped him build relationships with sources, Domonkos said.

"He could keep a confidence, and it made you comfortable giving information," she said, and he had a knack for breaking the tension when discussions became heated. "Sometimes political people can get over-intense on an issue, and he could always lighten the situation with a wry comment."

He knew the issues, she said.

"It's really nice when you talk to a reporter who's really interested and not just there to do a job," she said. "It was something he enjoyed, and it came through. He was our man. We loved having him there."

Before joining The Advocate, Mr. Coleman worked in broadcast journalism, including stints as a news director of WFAS-AM and FM Radio in White Plains, N.Y., and as a news anchor and reporter at WRKL Radio in Rockland County, N.Y., and WZFM Radio in Pleasantville, N.Y.

While in radio, Mr. Coleman won a New York State Broadcasters Association Best Spot News Award in 1988, and an award for best spot news from The Associated Press in 1985.

Joy Haenlein, the editor of the editorial pages for The Advocate and Greenwich Time who worked with Mr. Coleman for about 16 years, said she always noticed his clear way of speaking -- his "radio voice."

"Tobin made what for others can be a difficult career change -- from broadcast to print journalism -- then worked to elevate his 'new' craft," Haenlein said. "A fine reporter, he was especially meticulous about details. He felt a tremendous obligation to write the most fair and balanced story he could -- not necessarily the first story, not always the flashiest, but usually one of the best and most complete. He worked to maintain these standards even during times of intense deadline pressure -- in the closing days of the annual legislative session, when Connecticut lawmakers are known to finish up months of business in the course of a day or two; at national political conventions, when reporters work practically around the clock; and during political campaign seasons that can seem to last forever.

"His long and exceptional memory was invaluable. He covered practically every major board and figure in Stamford over nearly 20 years and could recall names and details the rest of us had long forgotten -- if we ever knew them at all. If Tobin wasn't sure about something, he would be the first to tell you so. But if he was sure, then you could be, too."

Born May 8, 1957, in New York City, Mr. Coleman graduated from Ramapo High School in Rockland County, N.Y., and earned a bachelor's degree in communications from Boston University. He enjoyed skiing, scuba diving, running and cycling, and was happy about his recent purchase of a home in Milford, halfway between Stamford and Hartford.

State Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said he remembers how excited Mr. Coleman was about moving from Norwalk to his new home.

"He kept talking about all the space he was going to have and how he was going to be able to play his saxophone without bothering his neighbors," Duff said. "I told him he could even do it at 3 in the morning, after a long day in (legislative) session."

Susan Haigh, Capitol reporter for The Associated Press, remembers similar conversations.

"He'd talk about improvements he was making to his house," purchased two years ago, said Haigh, who shared office space at the Capitol with Mr. Coleman for about five years. "We covered a lot of late-night sessions together. He and I both liked to ski, so we talked about that a lot, and he was just telling me how he was hoping to take some time off in January and ski."

Mr. Coleman loved his political beat, Haigh and other colleagues said.

"He really covered the governor's race like a blanket. He went to everything. It was a big race for him because Malloy was running, and I know he was having a good time," she said. "I just saw him on Friday. He always worked late. I just wished him to have a good weekend. I just didn't think I wouldn't see him again. He was one of the quieter guys up here. He had a very wry sense of humor that I loved. He was just an all-around sweet guy. We're just stunned and devastated."

Chris Keating, chief of the Capitol bureau for the Hartford Courant and a former reporter for Greenwich Time, said he also saw Mr. Coleman on Friday.

"He said that we would not see each other until after Labor Day because he was going on a long-planned, extended vacation. He was thinking about heading to the Rhode Island beaches, and we discussed the various beaches in some detail in the area near the Point Judith lighthouse," Keating said.

"He was very well-known at the state Capitol, and he was a fixture at multiple events during the recent Democratic gubernatorial campaign between John DeStefano and Dannel Malloy."

Paul Hughes, a Capitol reporter for the Waterbury Republican-American, also worked with Mr. Coleman in Hartford.

"I know he was close with his sisters. He spoke about his dad," Hughes said, recalling that Mr. Coleman told the other Capitol reporters about his trip to South Africa with his sisters a few years ago. "He also was talking about a big bike race or cycling event he was getting in shape to participate in. He had a dry sense of humor. He was a good guy."

Hughes said he began to worry when Advocate editors started calling around looking for Mr. Coleman. A few hours later, he heard the news, Hughes said.

"It's kind of tough, getting some news like that, to finish up the political stories you're working on," he said. "Somehow, it doesn't seem as important."

Mr. Coleman started his career at The Advocate by covering the business beat in lower Fairfield County, one of the nation's major business hubs.

Joe McGee, vice president of public policy for The Business Council of Fairfield County in Stamford, met Mr. Coleman when McGee was state commissioner of economic development.

"We used to compare notes on what his sense was like and mine was like of Hartford. I always perceived Tobin to be very fair. I had a high regard for Tobin's ability to report a story fairly and with balance," McGee said. "He had a good grasp on state issues and the personalities and the issues. He was a very quiet person, not a person who shared a lot about himself."

That may have stemmed from a profound sense of professionalism, said John Breunig, city editor of The Advocate and Mr. Coleman's supervisor. Mr. Coleman was "the consummate newsman," Breunig said.

"He wanted to get the facts right and be fair and balanced, and it didn't matter if it was his beat," he said. "He had that sort of old-fashioned jack-of-all-trades background."

Mr. Coleman was comfortable appearing on television and radio, occasionally representing The Advocate, Breunig said.

"He told me once that he was in radio when John Belushi died, and he showed up at Bill Murray's house and was walking up the driveway in Westchester when Murray walked down the driveway and said, 'I know why you're here,' and he just talked to Tobin about Belushi's life."

Mr. Coleman covered the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, when U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Stamford native, ran for vice president with presidential candidate Al Gore. Malloy, then chairman of the National Democratic Municipal Officials Conference, delivered a speech to the convention.

"The other day Tobin said to me, 'I really feel like I get my political fix every four years when those conventions come around,' " Breunig said.

Mr. Coleman kept mementos from past campaigns on his desk, Breunig said.

"He just enjoyed the politics of politics," he said.

Mr. Coleman was deliberate in his approach to reporting, Breunig said.

"He would argue about fine points in stories. He was very meticulous about language and wanting things to be accurate, wanting to be fair to his sources, not wanting to overstep his bounds, not fishing for stories for what you want them to be but what they were," he said. "It was what was not said about Tobin sometimes that defined him. What was not said was sources complaining. He definitely played it straight, whatever he was covering."

As a person, he had compassion, Breunig said.

"I had a family situation a couple years ago. I was supposed to work on Christmas Day. A family member was in the hospital, and Tobin came in and worked for me on Christmas Day," he said.

Mr. Coleman was among the more experienced reporters, but when he was asked if he would like to move to an editor's position or a different beat, he would say, " 'At least for now, I'm still a reporter. I want to still do this. I'm not ready to move on to something else yet,' " Breunig said.

Mr. Coleman did some of his best writing while covering the refugee crisis unfolding in Albania in April 1999, after the ethnic cleansing and forced expulsions of ethnic Albanians directed by former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Mr. Coleman traveled with an AmeriCares team from lower Fairfield County bringing relief supplies.

The scope of the crisis was clear during the descent aboard a C-130 cargo plane. "There is little chance that this agrarian country of 3.3 million, coming into view below, has the resources to feed, house and care for the hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding in from Kosovo, Yugoslavia," he wrote in his first dispatch.

He met refugees forced from their homes at gunpoint and watched as relief workers filled long ledgers with the names of displaced family members. He visited a basketball arena that was designated a "transit center" but had become, Coleman wrote, "a depot for human misery, one stop in a journey that began for the refugees in Kosovo, Yugoslavia, and now has no end in sight."

Coleman's weeklong assignment to Albania was among a handful of instances in the past decade that The Advocate sent a reporter overseas.

Tony Winton, Mr. Coleman's friend, is a radio broadcast correspondent for The Associated Press in Miami and president of the News Media Guild union.

"I'm just still trying to get over it. He was just a meticulous professional," said Winton, who knew Mr. Coleman for 25 years. "I knew him most in his broadcast work. He was responsible for training dozens of young reporters in writing for radio. He's left a pretty big mark on a lot of professional careers. He was one of a kind.

"One of his fixations was old black and white television, 'Ben Casey' and 'Twilight Zone.' I can remember working a late shift in the newsroom and the theme to 'Ben Casey' would come on and he would know all the words to the intro by heart. He had these certain factoids. He had an amazing repository for all this stuff. He was a great guy and a great union person."

Maida Rosenstein, president of UAW Local 2110, said she negotiated the last three newsroom contracts with Mr. Coleman.

"He was somebody who cared very deeply about a fair deal for his colleagues and wanted to make sure contracts were equitable for everybody," Rosenstein said. "It's hard to imagine the union and union activity at Stamford Advocate without Tobin."

Mr. Coleman's sister, Stacy Coleman of New York, N.Y., said her brother always attended family gatherings and was a good uncle to his nieces and nephews.

"He was deeply loving and loyal," Stacy Coleman said. "When I think of Tobin, I think of the saying, 'Still waters run deep.' "

At one time, she and her brother lived in Boston, and she could call him for help, no matter the hour, she said.

"He didn't ask questions. If you needed him, he would be there," she said.

Stacy Coleman said her brother was committed to his fellow employees from early in his career -- he once lost a job at a radio station because he recruited a union to fight for a blind radio announcer who received substandard wages and benefits.

"He just felt he was doing the right thing," she said.

Stacy Coleman said her brother didn't consider living anywhere but Connecticut, and was elated to finally buy a house in Milford after saving for years.

"He loved Connecticut," she said. "He just felt very rooted there."

Besides his sister, Mr. Coleman is survived by his parents, Herbert Coleman of Riverdale, N.Y., and Barbara Coleman of New City, N.Y.; two other sisters, Emily Perez of Armonk, N.Y., and Melissa Weinhaus of Katonah, N.Y.; two nieces and four nephews.

Copyright 2006, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc. Reprinted by permission.