Roxanna Conn Coleman, age 83, passed away on May 1, 2018, at Brandon Court Nursing Home in Brandon, MS, where she has lived since 2010. She died due to complications from Parkinson's Disease. She was a 40-year resident of Pearl, MS, and a member of Park Place Baptist Church.
She was preceded in death by her father, James “Jimmy” Conn, her mother, Frances Ford Conn, her step-mother, Chrystine Brumbelow Conn, and her husband of 53 years, Robert Matthew Coleman.
She is survived by her son, Lawton Coleman (Beverly), her daughter, Laura Callahan (Harry); her grandchildren, Kirsten Bradshaw (Rex ), Ana Pratt (Cole), Kenneth Callahan, Heidi Coleman, Kaitlyn Callahan, Kimberly Callahan, and Marta Coleman; and her great-grand children, Margot Bradshaw and Brooklynn Pratt. All are from Pearl except for the Pratt family.
Visitation will be held Thursday, May 3, 2018 at Ott and Lee Funeral Home in Brandon. Funeral services will be held at 11 am Friday at the funeral home with burial in Floral Hills Memory Gardens. Dr. Keith Grubbs will officiate.
Roxanna Conn Coleman was born to Jimmy Conn and Frances Ford Conn on February 12, 1935, in Sicily Island, Louisiana. Frances died of tuberculosis when Roxanna was only 16 months old, so very little is known about her. We do know that as soon as Frances found out she was pregnant, she and Jimmy dedicated their baby to the Lord and to His service.
Roxanna was raised by her doting father and her paternal grandmother. Apparently she was a bit willful as a child, because recently one of her cousins informed us that her childhood nickname was “PillAnna.” She was blessed with a beautiful new mother at age 14, when her father married Chrystine Brumbelow Conn. The love and nurturing showered on her by her attentive step-mother had much to do with shaping her into the strong, selfless, Godly woman we all knew and loved.
As an only child, Roxanna spent much of her time playing alone outdoors, singing at the top of her lungs. Singing was a source of comfort and joy to her, and soon it became apparent that it was one of her greatest gifts. Public speaking was another of her talents. As a high school student, she won a state speech competition sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention and was sent to the national competition at Glorietta Baptist Assembly in New Mexico, where she also was the national winner. She graduated from Block High School in Jonesville, Louisiana, in 1953, and later attended Louisiana College in Pineville, LA, earning a degree in music education with a double major in piano and voice.
It was at Louisiana College that Roxanna met her future husband, Robert Matthew Coleman. They were introduced by their match-making voice teacher, “Prof King.” They quickly fell in love and were married three months later in August, 1957. Together, they attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX. Robert became a Southern Baptist Minister of Music, and Roxanna’s talents were a perfect compliment to his ministry in church music. She helped him direct choirs and was his accompanist at several of the churches where they served. They also sang many solos and duets, gave voice recitals in their community, and participated in community musical productions. For example, while serving at North Greenwood Baptist Church in Greenwood, MS, in the 1960’s, Robert and Roxanna participated in the production of “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” Robert sang the bass baritone role of Melchoir, one of the three kings, while Roxanna performed the soprano role of Amahl’s mother.
The Colemans raised two children, Lawton and Laura. Further education was put on hold while Roxanna channeled her abundant energy into meeting the needs of her husband and young children. When the kids reached middle school age while living in Laurel, MS, a thirty-minute drive to a university town, Roxanna decided to pursue more education. She began commuting to the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg to obtain her master's degree in music.
Roxanna used her musical training all of her adult life to serve others. She was a piano and voice teacher and a church pianist and organist. She directed choirs and ensembles in public and private high schools as well as in small colleges. She also directed church children’s choirs, youth choirs, and adult choirs alongside her husband. When her health prevented her from directing, she continued to sing by participating in her church choir as well as in The MS Chorus. Her last church youth group to work with was at Park Place Baptist Church in Pearl, MS, then known as Sunshine Baptist Church, where some of the kids affectionately gave her the nickname “Foxy Roxy.”
Side note: Roxanna was also a highly-skilled seamstress who made all the clothes she ever wore, including her own wedding dress. In the 1970’s, she sewed double-knit leisure suits for the men in the family that have since somehow managed to dodge numerous Goodwill donation boxes over the years. Her grandchildren later provided many moments of hilarity modeling those suits. She also made Laura’s clothes all the way through college, including pageant dresses and recital gowns (again modeled and loved by her grandchildren years later), and she spent 6 months creating Laura’s wedding dress. She worked so many days on each detail of the gown that her family joked that she would probably follow Laura down the aisle with a sewing needle.
Roxanna was no stranger to pain. She had scoliosis as a child, resulting in severe curvature of the spine. As a teenager she had to wear an unsightly back brace. She kept going in spite of constant back pain. While playing the organ during church one Sunday in 1985 at the age of 50, she noticed that her left hand had a tremor. This was the beginning of a fierce thirty-plus-year battle with Parkinson’s Disease. She fought valiantly with dignity, humor, and even a little sarcasm at times. She fought it by her faith and her hope in her Lord Jesus Christ. If or when self-pity came to call, she never invited it into her thinking as a permanent resident.
She also fought Parkinson’s with resourcefulness. One example of this was her creativity in continuing to teach voice and piano lessons. When she lost the ability to play the piano with her left hand because of violent tremors, she bought a digital piano that had a recording feature with multiple tracks. She used her right hand to record the left hand part on one track. Then she recorded her right hand part on a separate track and mixed the two. Using this method, she created accompaniments for her voice students and continued to teach for many years.
Parkinson’s eventually took its toll on her body, in spite of her having great doctors and all the latest treatments. It took away her beautiful smile. It took away her piano playing. It robbed her of her glorious singing voice and even her speech. It took away her ability to walk, to cook for her family, to create beautiful clothes with her old black Singer sewing machine, or to carry her grand babies. It took away her sense of smell and her enjoyment of food, (except for chocolate milkshakes. Those she enjoyed till the very end.) Parkinson’s was like a giant jackhammer decimating all of the things she could do, but it could not inflict so much as a tiny scratch on the bedrock of her spirit. Her faith, her hope, her unconditional love, and her prayers were always there for us.
1 Corinthians 13:13 is so applicable to Roxanna’s life: “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.”
She has now crossed the finish line to a place of unimaginable beauty and joy, a place where Parkinson’s Disease is no longer her opponent. She is seeing her Savior face to face. She is reuniting with so many loved ones who have gone before her, including her birth mother who must have agonized over having to leave her baby so soon. Roxanna is rejoicing, singing at the top of her lungs again, and so will we.
Thank you, Lord, for the priceless gift you gave us in Roxanna Conn Coleman.