Austin Doyle Coffey
Austin Doyle Coffey, retired teacher and Payson activist, died Friday, May 18 at the age of 90. Mr. Coffey was one of the driving forces in bringing Gila Community College to Payson.
Born near Sweetwater, Okla. in 1921, he was raised on a family farm homesteaded by his parents Austin and Louiette. The youngest of seven children, he was raised during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. His devoted parents cemented the tenacity and fire that defined his life. He loved horses and sports, played basketball and competed in track.
Throughout his life he was a crooner and could often be found singing hymns and songs from “Your Hit Parade” collection. He joined the Navy in 1942 and served as a Seabee on the island of Tulagi in the South Pacific during World War II.
In 1945 he married Bonnie Prowell and they had a daughter, Nancy.
After the war, he attended Oklahoma State University and graduated with a degree in agriculture. He loved farming, and he moved to Casa Grande, Ariz. where he worked for Shell Chemical, inspecting farms for insect control.
After acquiring tuberculosis and spending a year in the hospital, Mr. Coffey changed careers and began teaching math and science. He and Bonnie divorced and in 1961, he married Margaret Watson-Cowan. Together they raised Nancy and Margaret’s daughter, Tina Cowan. While in Casa Grande, he was an active member in the Lions and Elks clubs, was an avid painter, and was president of the local chapter of the National Teachers Association.
He was fantastic with his hands and built a house in Casa Grande and a cabin in Payson, Ariz.
He continued to teach until his retirement in 1982, when he and Margaret moved to Payson, Ariz., a town he considered the “most beautiful place on earth.”
During his “retirement” he contributed immensely to his community. He helped to get school bonds passed, represented Payson on the Gila Community College Advisory Board and convinced voters to fund Eastern Arizona College satellite campuses around Gila County. For years, the Payson campus ran out of a strip mall off the Beeline Highway. Mr. Coffey fought for an actual campus, rallying the community to call their representatives and demand a college. With the help of Payson residents, Mr. Coffey and his colleague Don Allen successfully pressured the state Legislature to approve the first million-dollar appropriation for the college in 1998. After more pressure, another million dollars followed and soon Mr. Coffey was breaking ground for the Gila Community College campus. During this odyssey, he suffered from fibromyalgia, a heart-bypass, hip replacement and arthritis, as well as the joy and burden of raising two grandsons.
Over the years, he received many awards, including Payson Man of the Year in 1999.
During his final years, Mr. Coffey authored many stories from his life including a book on his pursuit for Gila Community College in Payson.
He was respected and beloved by many in the Payson and Casa Grande community: colleagues and co-workers, students and bosses, and even the headstrong politicians he charmed with his unflagging perseverance and determination.
Mr. Coffey was a rare breed, always honest and forthright, honorable and loving, kind and giving. He lived a noble, distinguished existence and cherished his family and his relationship with God.
“We sorely miss his sweet song, his bright spirit and his humble, infectious laugh,” writes his family.
Mr. Coffey is survived by his wife of 51 years, Margaret; his daughter, Nancy; his grandsons, Chris and Cortney; and many extended family members.
A service will be held at 11 a.m., Saturday, May 26 at Messinger’s Payson Mortuary, 901 S. Westerly Rd., Payson.
Donations in his name may be given to the charity of donor’s choice.