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Dr. Ron Coleman recognized with Varnell Award for passionate leadership

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January 25, 2017
            “A man of sincerity and genuine love for mankind with faith stronger than a mighty wall—that is Ron Coleman.”
            Janey Cooke, Cooke’s Food Store, who first met Dr. Ron Coleman in the hospital while in a life-threatening medical emergency, describes the 2017 Robert W. Varnell Jr. Leadership Award recipient as representing why the award was founded.
            “His life represents those qualities all of us were intended to have: high values, strong work ethic, quality, passion and love, to name a few,” she says. “He gives back much more than his share, taking nothing in return. He makes our community stand tall.”
            Dr. Ronald S. Coleman, Surgical Associates of Cleveland, retired, and member of the ownership group of The Old Woolen Mill, received the Varnell Leadership Award during presentations at the 91st Annual Meeting of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce.
            Named for the late Robert W. Varnell Jr., the award recognizes someone whose life represents the passion in business, church and community leadership reflected in Robert Varnell’s life. The award is one of the highest presented by the Chamber of Commerce.
            Dr. Coleman, born in a small coal mining area in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, moved with his family of seven loaded with all their possessions in an old pickup truck to the small village of Continental, Ohio, in search of a better life. There he graduated from high school and joined the Army at age 18.
            He served during the Vietnam era, training to become a Green Beret and becoming a member of the 5th Special Forces Group.
            “While serving overseas as a Special Forces medic, he witnessed the extreme poverty of those living in Third World countries, and his heart was forever changed,” nominator Matthew Coleman explained.
            After his discharge from the Army, he returned to Ohio, took a three-month job as an orderly at Defiance Hospital where he met and a short time later married his wife, Shelley. The young couple lived in Columbus while Coleman studied pre-med. He followed with a three-year program at the Toledo College of Medicine, during which his sons Joshua and Matthew were born. Upon graduation in the spring of 1978, he continued his surgery residency and internship at Wake Forest and Columbia VA Hospital in the Carolinas before moving to Tennessee to practice with Surgical Associates of Cleveland in 1983 at the age of 32.
            Dr. Coleman was vital in the growth and expansion of Surgical Associates, a general and vascular surgical practice that grew significantly during his tenure and arguably became the gold standard for this region. Throughout his practice, he wrote weekly articles for the Cleveland Daily Banner, providing both community service and humorous insights into life and the practice of medicine.

            “I worked with Ron as a partner in Surgical Associates of Cleveland for about 25 years,” Dr. Bill Johnson recounted. “He is a superb surgeon, both technically skilled and very compassionate. He was integral in management of this five-doctor practice and helped build it into one of the most efficient and effective healthcare delivery systems in town.”
            While at Surgical Associates of Cleveland, Dr. Coleman had already begun a progression of medical missions trips to Third World countries, which brought attention not only to needs around the world but great attention to needs in our community. He introduced his surgical team, his church, his friends and relatives to the mission field, orchestrating the assistance of hospitals, local doctors and community leaders to provide care for impoverished Third World individuals in great need. His is a model in continued used by other surgeons, healthcare professionals and missionaries throughout the community.
            “He has been actively involved in distant medical missions work . . . in Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Honduras,” Dr. Johnson said. “He has operated on hundreds of patients in Honduras over the past 20-plus years without charge. He has brought a number of patients to the U.S. for complex surgical procedures and arranged funding for travel, families to care for them, and hospitals and doctors to treat them. Untold numbers of people are alive and productive because of him.”
            His medical missions trips have also taken him to Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Ecuador, China, Peru, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Guatemala.
“Inspiring,” Pat Fuller, owner of the Orange Blossom Boutique, described Dr. Coleman’s work here and abroad.

            “Dr. Ron Coleman has inspired me over and over with his giving spirit and his drive to make a difference not only locally but around the world,” Pat Fuller said. “He has now been on over 80 international medical missions trips, giving his time, talent, skills and finances. He never, never worries but trusts that God has everything under control.”
            She also noted advice he offered about struggles in the workplace and following your heart: “You just have to do it and trust God,” he said. “Do what is right, trust God, and enjoy a happy, rewarding life.”
            And Ron Coleman, who left his position at Surgical Associates of Cleveland at age 43, has done just that.
            Among his passions is preservation of Cleveland’s heritage. He purchased The Old Woolen Mill on the south side of Cleveland to preserve the building’s historic character. Through his development and vision, several thriving businesses, residential lofts and an event center have flourished at The Old Woolen Mill.
            Another successful venture was his opening and operation of the Good Samaritan Clinic in 1989. This free medical clinic helps those who have fallen through the cracks without insurance to cover their medical needs. He subsequently expanded this effort to include an outreach to the Hispanic community, adding additional time at the clinic for volunteer translators. Volunteer doctors, nurses and administrative staff across the community have operated the clinic on Thursday evenings for more than 27 years.
            Dr. Coleman’s faith, long exemplified in his medical missions work, is evident in his local church as well. An active member of Westwood Baptist Church since 1983, he taught a fifth-grade Sunday school class for several years. He founded and directed Westwood’s Children’s Church for some 15 years. He also served on the church’s missions committee and was a catalyst for the advancement of many individual mission teams throughout the eighties and nineties.
            As part of his local outreach, Dr. Coleman collaborated with several local churches and the Good Samaritan Clinic to host and serve Thanksgiving dinner to needy families in the community during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
            He recently was nominated to serve as a deacon at Westwood.

            “As one of the Westwood associate pastors for 33 years, I have observed Dr. Coleman put his heart into whatever committee or ministry he is involved in,” the Rev. Jim Caywood said. “Always thoughtful, compassionate and a friend, I would trust him with my life.”
            Dr. Coleman and his wife, Shelley, are parents to Joshua, Matthew, and triplets Karen, Eva and Danny.
Nancy Neal, Vice President, Communications
(423) 472-6587

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PO Box 2275
Cleveland TN 37320-2275
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