Peter Tali Coleman, as St. Louis graduate, served as
governor of American Samoa for three terms.
Man of the Pacific
led American Samoa
Peter Coleman, 77, dies here after aBy Mary Adamski
two-year battle with cancer
Peter Tali Coleman was called "a man of the Pacific" in one of the many honorary degrees he was awarded, but that was not a fanciful title. It would serve as a summary of his life.
He was the first Samoan to be appointed governor of American Samoa, a U.S. territory, and later the first elected governor there.
His service as governor bridged five decades, from the appointment in 1956-61, to three elected terms, the most recent ending in 1993.
He spent nearly 17 years as an American appointee in administrative roles in the former U.N. Trust Territories of Micronesia. Then he served as an adviser to the government and the emerging Western Pacific nations as they gained independence. He founded PTC Inc., a government relations firm specializing in Pacific island matters, was the Republican national committeeman from American Samoa, and an attorney.
Coleman, 77, died yesterday at his Honolulu home after a two-year struggle with cancer.
"He was early recognized as a leader and will be remembered as one of the forerunners in the Pacific among native-born leaders who helped their nations chart their own destinies," said Gov. Ben Cayetano.
"His contribution will long be recalled with respect and affection."
Gov. Tauese P.F. Sunia of American Samoa ordered the United States and American Samoa flags to be flown at half-staff for 30 days in Coleman's home islands. Sunia will attend services in Honolulu next week, according to his chief of staff.
"There is no question of Peter Coleman's place in history, not only in American Samoa but throughout the Pacific," said Sunia in a message to Coleman's family. "I am proud to say that I knew him, that I worked for and with him, and that I witnessed the progress and change he brought to American Samoa."
Kitty Simonds, executive director of the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council, said: "He really knew the heart of the Pacific peoples." She recalled Coleman's effort to affirm native islanders' fishing rights, a move not popular with the American fishing industry or the tuna packing firms in Pago Pago.
City Councilman Mufi Hannemann said: "He was definitely a role model for many Samoans. Through his example, he embodied the best ideals and values of a public statesman."
C.E. "Rags" Scanlan, president of Royal Guard Security, said Coleman was "distinguished by his work for the betterment of all in the South Pacific." Scanlan, whom Coleman tapped to coordinate Hawaii relief efforts after a 1991 hurricane devastated Samoa, said the man was "very unpolitical. He was in politics but wasn't a politician. He was a private person, he worked behind the scenes."
J.E. Tihati Thompson of Tihati Productions said: "I will always respect him for the assistance he gave not only to the people of Samoa, but also to the Tokelau people of Swains Island Atoll while in office. He grew into a very gracious statesman whom many would consult for political advice."
Coleman is survived by his wife of 55 years, Nora; sons William P., Peter T. Jr., Milton, Bruce, Charles, Richard, Paul, Barrett and Alan; daughters Amata, Sina'ita'aga and Limonmon; sisters Laida and Marion; 23 grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.
Funeral services are pending.
Dec. 8, 1919: Born in Pago Pago, American Samoa, the son of Amata Aumua of Pago Pago and William P. Coleman of Washington, D.C., a former Navy chief master at arms.
St. Louis grad, Army vet
1939: Graduated from St. Louis High School where he played on the football team.
1940-45: U.S. Army infantry with service in the Solomon Islands.
1951: Received a law degree from Georgetown University, where he was a John Hay Whitney Foundation fellow.
1956: Appointed governor of American Samoa, after serving as public defender and attorney general.
1961: Appointed district administrator of the Marshall Islands, where he was the first U.S. citizen to be given honorary citizenship by the island parliament.
1965: Named district administrator of the Mariana Islands.
1969: Named deputy high commissioner of the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific, a term ending in 1977 after one year as acting high commissioner.
1977: Became first elected governor of American Samoa.
1980: Elected to second term.
1989: Elected to third term.