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Faith Coleman, Founder of Flagler County Free Clinic and Champion of Grit, Is Dead at 60

| December 1, 2014

Faith Coleman in an image she posted in 2010. (Facebook)

Faith Coleman in an image she posted in 2010. (Facebook)

Note: A memorial service open to the public will be held at the First Methodist Church in Bunnell on Saturday, December 13th at 2 pm. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made to her life’s work and love, the Flagler County Free Clinic.

Faith Coleman could give the impression that she was indestructible. Whatever challenges she faced, she would do them one better. In 2003 she was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Paying for treatment nearly ruined her, and in those pre-reform days, her condition black-listed her from getting health insurance. Her answer, beside surviving for more than a decade, was to establish a free clinic for people who could not afford care on their own. She teamed up with Bunnell’s Dr. John Canakaris and in early 2005, the Flagler County Free Clinic opened its doors to the first of thousands of patients who’ve been treated there since. Adversity was fuel to an optimism Coleman considered her surest medicine.

“Don’t let my baby die,” Coleman two weeks ago told Dr. Stephen Bickel, a member of the clinic’s board of directors and a volunteer there. Not that Coleman should have worried: the clinic is growing, it just appointed its first executive director in Terry Belletto, and will soon have a dental clinic. By then Coleman’s cancer, which she had forced into remission twice, was in its final stages. She had put in her last hours of work at the clinic six or eight weeks ago. In mid-October, the choir from Bunnell’s First United Methodist Church visited Coleman at her home and sang to her in her living room.

On Sunday, Coleman died. She was 60.

“My mother Faith,” Tommi Rivers, one of her six children, announced on Facebook late Sunday night, “went home today. With heavy hearts we let her go from this Earth, but we are comforted knowing that she is with her family and loved ones now. The way she went about the world, giving and giving as she did, she just gave everything she had to everyone who needed it. I loved her more than anything I ever knew was possible. My heart is so heavy, but I know she is happy and finally at peace. I love you, mom. Forever and always.”

Several members of the Free Clinic board of directors on Monday spoke of the clinic as her legacy. “We only hope that those of us who remain committed to the free clinic in her honor can keep it going and expand it,” Barbara Revels, the county commissioner and a member of the board, said. Coleman had been kept abreast of the clinic’s business, the grants that had been secured, the new volunteers joining up. “She started something really fabulous and now it’s our duty to her to continue it.”

“I was skeptical that it would last, and boy was I surprised,” Patrick Johnson, director of the Flagler Health Department, said. Johnson is a member of the Free Clinic board. The department helped the clinic get on its feet, and has since maintained a partnership with it so that when patients need to be seen during the week, and the clinic isn;t open, they’re referred to the department.

Coleman, Bickel said, had worked with the board to create an organization that wasn’t dependent on any single person. “She’s definitely going to be our long term inspiration,” he said, describing Coleman’s work ethic. “She saw patients a remarkable percentage of the time even whens eh was sick from chemo. She was a real battler.”

Coleman’s heroism was not the stuff of invention. In mid-August 2009, Coleman became one of CNN’s weekly heroes. That year she was also named the Business and Professional Women of Flagler County’s Woman of the Year. People who knew her quickly became familiar with her characteristic grit, optimism and impatience with nonsense. Her experience navigating cancer and a thankless health care system had sharpened those qualities. “Faith, Revels said, “was a tell it like she saw it person and she was always very funny in that if she didn’t agree with something or had an issue with something, she would really let you know it. She spoke her mind.”

And she did not like being the center of attention.

A Facebook message left by Wendy Moncrief in mid-November speaks to the sort of influence Coleman had on innumerable people: “You saved my life a year ago. And so many more lives I’m sure!! You made sure I got a mammogram when I had no benefits. You called me personally with the news. You gave me your home number. You gave me words of encouragement and gave me strength. And I just wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have been an inspiration to so many people , one of the bravest women I know. I pray that every day gets easier for you!! Thank you for opening your free clinic to the community. Thank you for all you have done for everyone! you are a true blessing !! and you are loved by so many!! take care of yourself!! and may God bless you always!! Love you!!”

Other testimonials have been pouring in.

“Our family is sad today because we lost yet another inspiring woman,” Voahangy Rasetarinera wrote from California. “We feel so privileged to have known Faith Coleman! We will cherish forever the memories of the times we had together, even if they were not many, each of them made a lasting impression in our hearts: listening to Faith’s childhood memories over a wonderful Southern dinner (we laughed so hard!), having her over for dinner and hearing her talk about how the free clinic started after her first battle with cancer and the ‘diet’ book she was thinking of writing after suffering so much through chemo that second time around… like Joseph in the Bible, she was not one to be overcome by her circumstances but one that saw every circumstance as an opportunity to love and serve others.”

And this from Wendy Ballew: “I had the amazing privilege to have Faith Coleman as a mother-in-law. It’s with great sadness that we had to say goodbye today. She won her battle against cancer because she did not let it define her. Instead it motivated her to start a free clinic in her home town, and save the lives of others. I will strive to teach my son about your kindness, your humor, and your beautiful soul. With all my heart I love you and find comfort that you are no longer in pain.”

Note: The Flagler County Free Clinic is marking its 10th anniversary with a fund-raiser at Chophouse 101, the restaurant at European Village, Wednesday, Dec. 3, from 6 to 8 p.m.

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24 Responses for “Faith Coleman, Founder of Flagler County Free Clinic and Champion of Grit, Is Dead at 60”

  1. Terry says:

    RIP Faith Coleman……Heaven just got a very special Angel ! Condolences to the children.

    • Charles Burgan says:

      I cried when I read this.
      I too feel through the cracks.

      After my heart attack,Faith was there to help me .
      I would sit in line at 5 am at the clinic on Sat. wearing my Gators shirt.
      Faith would always have her Alabama shirt on under her smock.
      Even if I Saw another doctor, she would have find time to talk football with me and see how my health was.
      She tried to keep me healthy. Faith….I quit smoking!
      Roll Tide!

  2. blondee says:

    May I suggest renaming the clinic The Coleman Clinic in her honor. RIP.

    • Anonymous says:

      That is a great idea!! before i got finished w/ this story I thought of that myself!

    • I think this would be an awesome tribute to the main person who got it going. What an inspiration she was to so many.

    • Tommi Riveres says:

      Thank you for the lovely thought. The idea was mentioned to my mother in the days before her passing, but true to her selfless nature she was adamant that the name of the free clinic remain unchanged. She said it was her vision to establish the clinic by and for the people of Flagler County and thus she wanted the name to reflect the people in the community she cared for and loved as if they were family.

  3. Doyle says:

    She is and always will be a flying high, you are a great person and will always be the flying high!!!

  4. Gia says:

    What a wonderful woman.

  5. tulip says:

    This article made me cry. Faith Coleman was a true dyed-in-the-wool unselfish giver to her community and there aren’t many like her.

    She truly helped her community as much as possible and has also done much to improve it. She will be greatly missed and hope the free clinic will continue to survive and grow.

    She leaves a legacy of unselfishness, caring, compassion, for her patients and those who knew her.

    Now her own pain is over and she can eternally rest without pain.

  6. tulip says:

    I like what Blondee said about renaming the clinic.

  7. Seminole Pride says:

    Let’s keep her spiritual flame alive.

  8. confidential says:

    Farewell to Faith on her Journey to the Almighty, outstanding lady and exceptional American Woman who’s exemplary compassion we should all learn from and try to help more our fellow men, women and children on despair.
    I agree the clinic now should display her name. Faith Coleman Free Clinic.

  9. confidential says:

    No words can be found to express the loss his family and our community endure now with amazing Faith gone to heaven.

  10. Carol Mikola says:

    What an amazing person; I wish that I had known her personally. Her death is a great loss, not only to her family, but to the whole community.

  11. tracy Marino says:

    Faith was my hero. she saved my sister Wendy’s life, mine and my children as well. she will be missed from the bottom of our hearts, our condolences to her family. Rest well Faith <3

  12. Jan Reeger says:

    When I heard she was fighting this last bout, I made the comment that it would be nice to honor someone while they were still alive. But she did not want those accolades. She just wants the clinic to continue. My thought for a name was “Faith Free Clinic”. I am grateful to know people like her who are so giving.
    Thank you Faith.

  13. Judy Reese says:

    Faith made a lasting impression on all that crossed her path. I am so blessed to have had her in my life.
    Lets think of Faith as graduating from this life into another world of love and learning…Life Continues!

  14. Ben says:

    I met this lovely lady while she attended to my earache at Ardent Heath Care a few years back.
    Over the ensuing years I witnessed her life-giving work at the free clinic, and her championing of the local homeless population. (All that while not feeling well) What an inspiring person – a hero, a glowing role model for all of us.

    Ms. Coleman’s life meant a lot to all she touched. Her life mattered and had great meaning.
    I am honored to have met her, and I am very saddened by her passing.

    When someone I loved passed away suddenly over a decade ago, I said the words: “The world is a lesser place now.” I hear myself say it again for Nurse Faith.
    My deepest sympathies go out for her family and many friends.

    God bless you Faith. THANK YOU

  15. Joy says:

    No words can express the strength, the love, the caring of this lady. It was more than a pleasure knowing her. She cared deeply for everyone. An angel on this condolences and love to her family and friends and colleagues. Rest in Peace Faith God Bless

  16. A Fagan says:

    Faith Coleman was an angel sent from heaven to this county to bring good health.
    I am thankful because today my husband is still with us because Ms. Coleman was
    instrumental in finding what was wrong with him. The free clinic and the staff are
    is a must have for the county. Let us all do whatever it takes to keep the free clinic
    working and growing. Ms. Coleman we will miss you dearly. Rest little Angel. May God
    Keep and continue to bless the children and their families.

  17. Bartholomew Reed says:

    I was Bless to know Faith. She was a Wonderful Mother & a Strong Woman. She loved her family SO MUCH!!! I remember eating dinner at her home and talking to her on the phone a few times. She treated me like a son. She left a Legacy and a formula that we all can follow and use in our daily lives. Faith figured out the Formula, how to make Life Count!
    I miss you, and I know that I’ll see you again. Thank you for showing me kindness. You will never be forgotten by me. Rest Well Faith your Legacy will live on!

    Bart Reed

  18. Pamela Andrews says:

    I feel, so honored and truly blessed to have known Miss Faith.
    There were times, in her last few months with us, she would come by The Care Cupboard, and The Sheltering Tree, to help setup, and no matter how bad I felt, when she walked in the door, I stood a little taller, for her strength inspired me…
    As much as she was suffering, she gave til she parted, and through the clinic, her legacy will live on…
    Prayers to all the heavy hearts, and know, she will be there waiting on you…
    Love to you always Beauty

  19. Geezer says:

    Beautiful inside and out–that was Faith Coleman.

  20. confidential says:

    Yes Geezer. The Almighty keep her by His side watching over us as she did all her life for her fellow folks along with Dr Kanarakis up in those celestial free clinics!

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