Francis Innes Gowen Coleman



flagObit - Francis ColemanNORTHEAST HARBORFrancis Innes Gowen Coleman (“Fig”) died peacefully in his sleep on Monday, Dec. 8, 2014. He was 92.

Fig was born Nov. 22, 1922, in Bryn Mawr, Pa., to George Dawson Coleman and Marianna Gowen Coleman. The Coleman family set down American roots in the 18th century in Elizabeth Township of Lancaster County, Pa., and still retains their ancestral Elizabeth Farms property today.

He attended the Episcopal Academy in Philadelphia, and at the age of 12 entered St. Paul’s School (N.H.), where he would stay six years, graduating in 1941. In the fall of that year, he entered Princeton University. In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, Fig resigned his place in the university and, after basic training, volunteered to join the recently founded Office of Strategic Services (OSS), where he qualified for the Operational Groups, the forerunners of today’s Special Forces.

He saw action in Italy and in 1944, after extensive training as a parachutist in the Atlas Mountains of North Africa, parachuted into the south of France with an OSS team, where they joined the local French resistance and harassed the retreating German army in a series of attacks over a two-week period. During this time, he was awarded the Silver Star for valor. In his usual self-deprecating way, he would later tell people that he was decorated because his commanding officer left him behind after a raid and felt guilty about it.

At the end of the war, Fig returned to the United States and, like many war veterans, completed his studies at Princeton on an accelerated timetable. He joined the recently established CIA in 1947 and his first posting was under the cover of vice consul in Marseilles, France, where he was tasked with building a network of intelligence sources extending along the southern coast of Italy and France. He used his athletic abilities to join a local rugby league, composed mainly of police officers who would become valuable sources of information. He also served in Norway where he posed as a novelist, dutifully receiving chapters of his “novel” on a monthly basis from Langley, which he would spread around his apartment to appease overly curious Soviet agents. His mission during this assignment was to cultivate Soviet nuclear scientists who wished to defect, probing the state of the Soviet atomic capability. His job was made more difficult in that he was considered a “joint” asset by the French and the British, as well as the Americans’ and the Allies’ interests were not always in sync.

After Norway, during a stint back in Washington, D.C., he met Julia Montgomery Seymour, a widow who had worked for the OSS in Italy during the war, and had taken a job in Washington through former colleagues now in the CIA to support her young sons. They married in October 1957 and moved to Italy with Julia’s two sons, where Fig took a post in the Rome embassy as deputy chief, and later chief of station. They were in Rome for six years, and during this time Fig’s first two children, a son and a daughter, were born. Another son was born on their return to the U.S. in 1963, where Fig spent a year at the National War College, and then was assigned as the CIA liaison to the FBI.

In 1966, Fig was appointed chief of station to the embassy in Madrid, Spain, where he and his family were to remain for the next four years. An ardent aficionado of bullfighting as well as a passionate wing shot, Fig was able to indulge both interests as, in addition to being the seat of the Corrida, Spain also was known for its abundant Red-legged partridge. The Colemans returned to the United States in the summer of 1970, and Fig retired from the CIA in 1975.

During his retirement, he and Julia split their time between Washington, D.C., and a summer home in Northeast Harbor. They spent a great deal of time traveling, shooting and fishing, and for more than 30 years Fig ran a syndicate for partridge shooting in Spain, which allowed him to spend time there every year, introducing other Americans to the sport. In 2007, just as they were preparing to move to Piper Shores in Scarborough, Julia died suddenly and Fig moved into their new home alone. He embraced his new community, and led an active social life with old friends and new, as well as with his family. As his health declined, Fig endured it with his characteristic grace, courtesy and unfailing humor. He died as he wished, in his own bed and in his sleep.

Fig is survived by his stepsons Peter and Christopher Seymour, his daughter, Anne Coleman, and his sons, Craig and Bruce Coleman, as well as his 10 grandchildren. He will be buried alongside Julia in Northeast Harbor. A memorial service and private burial will be held in Northeast Harbor this summer.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in Fig’s memory to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, P.O. Box 89367, Tampa, FL 33689; or to St. Paul’s School, attn: Don Martin, 325 Pleasant Street, Concord, NH 03301.

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