A Tribute to Robert Coale

Robert Coale

The late Robert Coale was a man who loved art, beauty, and learning, and enjoyed sharing these things with others, says Leone McDermott, long-time friend and the executor of his estate. He would frequently host lively parties in his home, which was filled with books, furniture, and works of art.

Born into a working class family – at one point in his childhood he performed as a child magician on the vaudeville circuit – Coale developed his love of art and culture early in life. After graduate school, he joined the staff of the Newberry in the early 1960s as a bibliographer and cataloguer for Latin American materials. While he eventually moved on to work at the City Colleges of Chicago, he continued to work part time at the Newberry almost until his death.

“He always had amazing good luck with collecting,” says McDermott. For example, he bought a first edition by Oscar Wilde, and when he got it home, he found a letter written by Wilde folded into the pages, which is now in the Newberry’s collections.

Coale chose to donate his entire book collection to the Newberry, and he also directed a significant share of the assets from his estate as an unrestricted gift to the Newberry. “Bob always viewed the Newberry as his intellectual home,” McDermott recalls. “He wanted to support the work of the Newberry, and he believed deeply in its mission.”

While an estate attorney can serve as the executor of someone’s will, Coale chose to ask McDermott. “I think he asked me to be his executor because we had become close friends, and we shared similar values.” After his passing on September 29, 2006, McDermott took on responsibility for administering his estate. Working with an attorney, she ensured paintings and objects were disbursed to museums and friends according to Coale’s wishes, and managed the sale of his home and other assets.

McDermott said of the role of executor, “I think of this as the last thing you can do for someone you love. I had the honor of helping Bob by making sure that the things he wanted to have happen, happened.”

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