Gregory Peck Coleman, 62, of Philadelphia, a former recreation-center swimming champion, salesman, and a lyricist, died Sunday, Oct. 29, of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) after spending more than three years in a nursing facility.
Mr. Coleman was an excellent swimmer as a teen. He began pursuing the sport at the Amos Recreation Center at 16th and Berks Streets under the tutelage of coach Dan Corbitt, who encouraged him to compete on the rec center's swim team.
Mr. Coleman won many trophies for his swimming prowess and capitalized on that gift by working as a lifeguard for the Philadelphia Department of Recreation during the summer for 20 years. He also played basketball at Simon Gratz High School and excelled at that sport as well.
The son of Philadelphians Carrie Bessie Stone and Buster Lenox Mitchell, Mr. Coleman was an active youth who loved the outdoors, and enjoyed running and playing in his North Philadelphia neighborhood. Affectionately known as "Reds," he graduated from Gratz in 1972.
A sociable young man, Mr. Coleman loved to dress in the latest style to impress the young ladies, his family said. He joined the "Congressional Soul Gents," one of the numerous teen social clubs in Philadelphia. At that time, the club hosted socials and waistline parties – a party to which the cost of admission was based on the size of the participant's waistline.
Mr. Coleman continued his education at Bethune-Cookman College, now a university, in Daytona Beach, Fla., and at Lincoln University in Chester County, where he studied religion. He worked as a sales representative for an African American publishing company, selling educational and multi-cultural literature to universities, colleges, and libraries, his family said.
A creative soul who loved music, Mr. Coleman demonstrated his talent as a writer on the CD Exit 45, released in 2002 on RTRW Records LLC. He contributed words to the songs "Try Me" and "A Little Help," featuring vocalist Dianne Johnson, his family said.
Mr. Coleman had a relationship with Pamela Gambrell. The couple had three children, Carrayah Queen Ella, Gabriel Joel, and Carrynn Consetta Erin. He had been taught to respect and obey his elders as a child, and tried to instill those values in his children.
"His children were the joy of his life, and he never stopped talking about them," said his sister Erin. "Greg wanted nothing but the best for his children and would sometimes cry if he could not do everything for them."
Mr. Coleman was an extrovert who loved interacting with people and making them laugh with his "million-dollar smile," his family said. "If he cornered you, he would tell you of his dreams to meet famous entertainers, get his songs published, and take care of his children and family that he revered."
Religion played a major role in Mr. Coleman's life. At an early age, he was baptized at "the Met," a former opera house on North Broad Street used as a church, and he attended many other churches over the years until he found his spiritual home at Bethel Baptist Church of North Philadelphia. He enjoyed helping his church, an effort that was reciprocated in 2013 after he was diagnosed with ALS.
"He never believed that the disease would defeat him," said longtime friend Lorraine Poole-Naranjo. "He always had hope that a cure would be coming."
Pastor Bruce Oxford and the Bethel Baptist congregation "reached out to Mr. Coleman when he began to get ill and visited him, conducting church services at the nursing home during his time of need," his family said.
In addition to his children and sister, he is survived by a large extended family.
Private services will be held Saturday, Nov. 11.