Friday, Aug. 1, 2014
When asked upon his retirement, “If you could sum it all up in one word, what does the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business mean to you?” Edward N. Coffman, Ph.D., said, simply, “proud.”
Edward “Ed” Coffman made the School of Business proud, too. Coffman, an alumnus who passed away July 24 at the age of 72, taught in the Department of Accounting for 46 years, five of which he served as chair.
“This is a sad time for the School of Business community,” said Dean Ed Grier. “Ed was one of those professors who truly relished teaching and interacting with his students. He loved the school, and was loved in turn.”
Even as an administrator, Coffman remained faculty-oriented and deeply respectful of others, said Philip Olds, Ph.D., an associate professor of accounting who taught with Coffman for 33 years.
“He believed that all major decisions should involve serious consideration of the views of faculty,” Olds said. “This characteristic came through most clearly in the five years he served as department chair. Some individuals, once they become an administrator, seem to forget what they believed when they were faculty members; Ed never did that. As chair, he always said that he saw his role as an advocate for the views of the department’s faculty.”
Coffman grew up in the small town of West Point, Virginia. After graduating from high school he worked at the local paper mill with other members of his family, including his father. When Coffman decided to attend college in 1962, he became the first in his family to do so.
At VCU, Coffman met fellow undergraduate Edward L. Flippen, now an attorney with McGuireWoods and a former rector of the VCU Board of Visitors. The two remained close friends for 52 years.
“There was nothing he wouldn’t do for his family and friends,” Flippen said. “Ed always put other people first, and yet, at the same time, he was able to be highly accomplished, doing his job effectively and efficiently. Not surprisingly, he was very popular with students, and developed strong relationships with the faculty.
“As highly accomplished as Ed was, he never bragged [about himself]. He bragged about his family, he bragged about his friends. He bragged about his VCU colleagues. He was the most humble person I have ever known.”
After earning both undergraduate and master’s degrees at VCU, Coffman taught in the Department of Accounting from 1966 to 1968. He left to pursue his doctorate at George Washington University, but in 1970 returned to his teaching position at the School of Business, where he spent the rest of his career. An avid Rams fan, Coffman also was a prolific author of academic books and journal articles. He was a visiting professor at universities across the globe, and received numerous awards, including the Outstanding Accounting Educator Award of the Virginia Society of CPAs.
Coffman witnessed many changes in the university during his tenure. The opening of the School of Business building in 1972 (now Grace E. Harris Hall) provided one of the first opportunities for the business faculty to teach and be housed together in one location. He saw the institution grow and develop into a major comprehensive university that is highly regarded locally and nationally.
Economics professor David Harless, Ph.D., served on several committees with Coffman and later collaborated on a research paper with him. He said that in all their interactions, he found Coffman to be a wonderfully positive person.
“Ed was so genuine: kind, empathetic, compassionate, cheerful,” Harless said. “He was also unflappable. Over the many years at VCU he had to deal with a variety of characters, some of whom were testy and hot-tempered. Ed was able to maintain his calm, positive demeanor even under trying circumstances.”
For instance, Harless recalls one graduate student who had a difficult personality. Not only was she difficult to work with, she was difficult to talk with. Were it not for Coffman’s help, Harless said, she could have easily slipped through the cracks and never completed her degree program.
“I took to calling him Saint Ed for a while,” Harless said.
Coffman’s accomplishments, modesty, openness and friendship so impressed Rasoul Tondkar, Ph.D., in 1979, that when Tondkar was interviewing for a faculty position, he chose VCU.
“When I arrived at VCU, he helped me with my teaching, research and service responsibilities,” Tondkar said. “Since that time I worked with him as a colleague for 32 years until he retired. Not only Ed cared about his colleagues, students, but also cared about total strangers.”
Once, while traveling to a research conference, Coffman and Tondkar were approached in the Charlotte, North Carolina, airport by a man who could not speak English. The man was trying to find his gate and airline.
“Ed started to help him,” Tondkar said. “I said, ‘Ed, we are going to miss our flight.’ His answer was, ‘I need to help this man.’ This is the way I always remember Ed. Eventually he assisted the man and we were the last passengers to board.
“I can share with you how much he has helped me personally and professionally and how much I have learned from him. I have been trying to do what he did for me to do for my students, colleagues and others so that Ed’s legacy of kindness, caring and generosity would continue forever. Finally, I can tell you that I sorely miss my friend and my mentor.”
Coffman is survived by wife, Nell; son and daughter-in-law, John and Carey Taylor; and numerous granddaughters, sisters, nieces and nephews.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Ed and Nell Coffman Faculty Endowment Fund (select “other,” then type in “Coffman Faculty Fund”), or Community Missions, First Baptist Church, Richmond, Virginia.
Linda Williams contributed to this article.
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