For decades, the town recorder

Feb. 23, 2013 @ 08:23 AM

It is a testament of community to live in the town in which you were born. Love of community is shared when you write of that community, too.

Harlan Gay Coleman Jr., was born on Queen Street in Hillsborough. “Literally, I was delivered on the floor,” Coleman says with a man’s mature face and the laugh of a young boy. Those people that are known as folks, know Coleman by his common-name, Gee, yet they might not know how his name came to be.

“There was a girl that lived down the street, Annie Donald Patterson, she is dead now, and she called me Gee and I suppose it just followed me ever since,” says Coleman. Coleman was born in 1922 and he attended Hillsborough High School, graduating in 1939. He is a lifelong resident of this town, except for his tour of duty during World War II.

“I was in the Air Force and toured in England, Scotland, North Africa, Corsica, Italy, Southern France and Germany; I was a radar mechanic in the service,” Coleman says.

Upon graduating from high school, Coleman had enrolled in a business course and he worked with his father at Coleman-Laws Company, a general merchandise store, where the current SunTrust building is in Hillsborough. “We sold hardware and general merchandise and we sold farm equipment, too. We carried the International Harvester contract for Hillsborough,” Coleman says.

With an interest in bookkeeping, Coleman eventually went to work for Christian Printing Company as an office manager. When an opportunity arose, he returned to the merchandise store to manage it with his brother. “We had to give the farm equipment contract up, as there were too many dealers around and we just focused on the hardware side of the business,” Coleman reports.

In due course, the business was sold entirely, and Coleman went to work for the Mebane Enterprise selling advertisements. “They had a section in their newspaper called the Hillsborough Journal and I was taken under the wing, so to speak, to learn about newspapers and the business of managing them,” Coleman says. “I started writing a column for the newspaper and it was called, Around the Borough. It pushed me to covering events in and around town and the news, too.”

Coleman continued his growth in the newspaper and became editor. Later, he became the editor of the News of Orange and in the late 1960s; he purchased the newspaper. So began a career of devotion to running the voice of the town.

“I was the publisher, editor, janitor and handyman,” Coleman said. “We had two people on staff when I came on board and when sold it in the late 1970s there were a total of eight people working for the paper.”

From the newspaper industry, Coleman and one of his sons, Keith, had already established Hillsborough Office Supply and upon selling the newspaper, he went to work on a fulltime basis with his son. When the business closed in the 1990s, Coleman went to work with his other son, Harry, at Granville Printing Company. This past August, at the young age of 89, Coleman retired from work; he turned 90 in November. “I wanted to work until I was 90,” Coleman said with a smile. Even before his retirement, Coleman sought to maintain his written voice and he contributes a weekly column to the News of Orange County, titled, “Remember When.”

“Some of us had had been approached in town about giving an oral history of parts of the town at a historic function. I enjoyed doing the report and I asked if I could contribute something each week, telling a story of how it used to be,” said Coleman. “At first I thought my audience would be mostly older people, as they would recall a point familiar in my columns. However, I am humbled when young people bring up that they have read what I write,” Coleman says. His voice, according to Coleman, is that of a pure reporter, “I have dabbled in some poetry but basically I just write straight-up what I see,” Coleman says.

Coleman is married to his young bride, Anne, of 67 years. “We met at a church function and we corresponded while I was at war; I think she still has some of the letters,” he says.  Coleman is active in the Exchange Club, having earned the distinguished lifetime member achievement and he is a long-time member of the First Baptist Church in Hillsborough, “Since I was 12-years old,” he says.

Throughout his career as a businessman and eventual small-town newspaper mogul, Coleman has maintained his dedication and interest in Hillsborough. He has reported and written of many of the changes and has witnessed, like others of his generation, the transformations this town has taken for many decades. Of his writings, Coleman reports that he feels it is important to remind and inform those of the particular legacies of this town.

Although he is not shy, Coleman offered that this was his first formal-interview and that, “I don’t really know that I have very much to write about.” Yet, when reading of his nostalgic love of this small town, this hometown boy, turned man, turned newspaper editor, is just the kind of voice more town’s need. After all, there is news, and then there comes a time when we all will need to remember when.”

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