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Beloved Tulane Law alum Jimmy Coleman has died

March 28, 2019 10:30 AM

Jimmy Coleman (left) with his brother, Peter, (L'70), during one of the memorable, New Orleans-style receptions they held for Tulane Law's international students. (Photo credit: Sabree Hill)


James “Jimmy” Coleman, Jr., a Tulane Law alumnus, philanthropist and visionary businessman who annually hosted dozens of international students to his lavish Uptown home for a decidedly New Orleans-style welcome, passed away last week. He was 77.

Coleman, a 1968 graduate of the law school and a Tulanian through and through, spent a career as a lawyer and businessman, most notably as a developer of some of New Orleans’ most prominent hotels, including the Hilton Riverside New Orleans Hotel and the Windsor Court, the latter inspired by his love of all things British.

The news of his passing was met with great sadness at Tulane Law, where Coleman was known to many as “Jimmy,” and remembered for his warmth and intoxicating smile. 

“Jimmy Coleman believed passionately in the importance of Tulane Law School’s distinctive international mission and comparative perspective,” said Law Dean David Meyer. 

“He was generous in crediting his own success as a lawyer and  international business leader to the broader vision he gained as a Tulane law student,” Meyer said.  “And he was generous in giving back to the law school and ensuring that the students who follow him today continue to benefit from Tulane’s vibrant international community.”

Coleman and his family have a long history of supporting international education at Tulane Law. As recently as last August, the family added a generous gift of $250,000 to a significant family endowment established a decade ago through the James J. Coleman Sr. Visiting Professorship in Law, named for Jimmy’s father, a 1937 Tulane Law graduate.

Established in 2009 after James Sr.’s passing by his widow, Dorothy Coleman and children, Jimmy, Peter (A&S ’66, L ’70), Thomas, and Dian, the Coleman Visiting Professorship brings distinguished international legal scholars to teach advanced short courses in their field and collaborate with Tulane faculty. Coleman Professors have come from Australia, Argentina, Brazil, China, France, Italy and Spain.

Jimmy Coleman shares a laugh with Law Dean David Meyer.

But it was Coleman’s warm and festive annual receptions for international students that uniquely endeared him to the Tulane students he welcomed as family. Arriving international students and faculty were treated to a New Orleans-style reception in the Colemans’ stately Audubon Place home, which has an eclectic mix of art and artifacts collected from around the world. The reception is a tradition started decades ago by Coleman’s father, James Coleman, Sr., who graduated from Tulane Law School in 1937 before going on to a distinguished career in law practice and international business.  The welcome for international students was hosted by the elder Coleman for many years, and the tradition was renewed three years ago by Jimmy Coleman and his family. 

“For generations now, the Coleman family has played a critical role in strengthening Tulane Law School’s international stature and identity, and in cultivating the uniquely powerful sense of community for our international students and faculty,” Meyer said.

Coleman’s love of travel, particularly of England, rested with his father, James Sr., who took his children on trips around the world and passed on to them his deep appreciation and enthusiasm for understanding people of other cultures.

In the past, Jimmy Coleman has credited his family’s prominence in international business to a Tulane education.  James Coleman Sr. founded International-Matex Tank Terminals, which grew into one of the world’s largest independent companies handling, storing and shipping bulk liquids such as petroleum, vegetable oils and chemicals.

Jimmy Coleman, who had a leadership role in the family businesses, also was a dedicated supporter of the U.S. Coast Guard and has been a driving force in establishing a Coast Guard Museum in New London, Conn., for which he received the U.S. Coast Guard Spirit of Hope Award, the National Maritime Historical Society Distinguished Service Award and the Alexander Hamilton Award from the National Coast Guard Museum Association. 

He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1986 by Queen Elizabeth II.

Coleman also was a philanthropist who supported many institutions across the United States, including the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Newport (RI) Art Museum, and its art school, which in 1998 was renamed the Minnie and Jimmy Coleman Center for Creative Studies. Locally, Coleman was a member of a number of carnival krewes, including Rex and Hermes, with the latter establishing a foundation that supported New Orleans’ first responders. He supported the New Orleans Police Department, often financing continuing education and training programs for officers.