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In Memory

Joeseph Coe (Principal)


When someone starts a conversation by saying "Pull My Finger"... you know things are about to get interesting.

That's the first phrase that comes to mind when remembering Joe Coe. The second: "Keep It In Your Pants." And the third is downright unprintable.

Joseph Vincent Edward Coe was born in Laingsburg, Michigan on Christmas Day in 1934 -- a little too cold, a little too blue. Not the day, but Joe himself: Family lore has it that his Aunt Annie prudently popped him in the oven to warm him up. The heat's been on ever since.

Joe was one of ten children. Mother Sarah and Father Thomas could never quite agree on a middle name, so he got two. Years later, he'd get another: "Swivel Hips" -- for his dances down the football field at Laingsburg High School, leading the Wolfpack to win after win after win. That's what earned him a full-ride scholarship to Alma College and a ticket to the middle class.

He became a teacher, a coach (first season 0-16), a referee (of all kinds), a principal and legendary figure at Avondale High School in Auburn Hills, and a mentor to thousands of students -- some of whom would sheepishly return decades later to say, "Gee, Mr. Coe, I really wished I had followed your advice."

Joe was a fixer: He bought his mother her first real house, and fixed it up himself. When he lost his college scholarship after a football injury, he fixed it -- by literally digging in to pay his own way, spending long, hot summers making ditches and building roads. And when his beloved sister Ann suddenly and tragically lost her life, he fixed it the best he could -- taking in her five children to raise as his own. The private conversations he had with his wife that day may never be known, but "What are we thinking?! Can we really do this?!" is likely not far off the mark. The one thing he knew for certain: It would be the best decision he'd ever make.

F-bombs were rare. Except for the time one of his kids washed the new Chevrolet Monza with a fresh-from-the-box brillo pad to get it "really, really clean." The good Lord gave Joe a pass on that one.

What else should you know about Joe? He had a late in life love affair with a 12-pound Shih-poo pup named Lola. He was proud of his snow-white hair and his new set of teeth. His bedroom closet doubled as a Jos A Banks factory outlet. His addiction to MSNBC in general and Rachel Maddow in particular was unshakable. And he called his own shots till his very last breath -- funeral instructions, fatherly commands ("Be Indispensable!"), and a fully raised middle finger, his signature sign of endearment.

His towering Catholic faith was what defined him, despite all he endured because of it. So his timing was perfect when he passed away during Holy Week at the age of 86. The cause was lung disease.

He is survived by his siblings David, Patrick and Sally. By the eight children he guided to adulthood -- Mary, Margaret, Monica, Tom, Jeff, Jim, Steffi and Libby. And by a posse of grandkids and great grandkids who all knew him as the feisty, frisky "Papa Joe."

He was quite worried about "The Covert" (Covid-19 to the rest of us), and wanted to be cautious for everyone's sake. Per his wishes, there will be a small, private service for the family and a burial at Laingsburg's Mount Olivet cemetery.

Donations in his name can be made to the medical heroes who cured him of cancer at the University of Michigan's Alfred A Taubman Institute. https://leadersandbest.umich.edu/find/#!/med/taubman

They say in the end, we all become stories. Joe's was bold. And strong. And every word rang true.