Estelle Rematha Coleman died peacefully at Sunnyvale Health Care Center in Sunnyvale, Calif., on Dec. 24. She was 92.
She was born on Sept. 16, 1921 to Geneva Wiggins and Grady Battle in Zebulon, N.C. At the age of eight, she and her mother moved north to Cambridge. Rae, as she was lovingly known, was educated in the Cambridge Public School system.
In 1938, after dating for a short period, she married J. Riche Coleman and moved to Roxbury. Between 1939 and 1946, five children were born: Jocelyn, Marcia, Gretchen, Jay (Beau) and Stephanie. Unfortunately, that marriage ended in divorce in 1947. Rae and her children worshiped at Eliot Congregational Church and St. Mark’s Congregational Church, both in Roxbury.
Every summer while her children were young, Rae took them to Martha’s Vineyard where her inlaws owned a summer cottage in Oak Bluffs. As they grew older, Rae stayed in Boston to work full-time, visiting weekends, while her mother in law, Granny Coleman cared for all five of the children on the Vineyard for the entire summer.
In February of 1964, Rae moved to New York city and pursued a career in banking with the newly opened Harlem branch of the New York Bank for Savings. Not knowing much about the banking industry, she enrolled in a two-year course at the American Institute of Banking. Upon successfully graduating, she attended New York University to continue her studies in estates and trusts and was subsequently promoted to supervisor of new accounts. Within a seven year period, Rae was transferred numerous times to different branches that needed officers in new accounts departments. She was also given additional promotions, and in 1973 Rae became the first black female officer elevated to assistant secretary/branch manager for banking operations, responsible for overseeing deposits which totaled $136 million. This was the highest rank that had ever been attained by a black female in the New York savings bank industry.
In l976, Rae made history again when she became the first black female to attain the position of assistant vice president of a savings bank in the New York savings bank system. She remained in the New York-New Jersey area until 1980, when she relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she attained an executive position with Crocker Bank (now known as Chase).
Upon retirement from banking, at the young age of 75, Rae moved to San Jose, Calif., where she became an active member of the National Council of Negro Women and ultimately served as its president for over 10 years.
Still filled with zest and vitality, in her early 80s, Rae was employed on a part-time basis by Breathe California, formerly the American Lung Association, as a liaison to seniors experiencing lung problems. Her job was to reach out to seniors and educate them about the various programs offered by Breathe California, and to facilitate meetings and health fairs regarding health-related issues. She retired from that position in 2011, at the age of 90.
In 2010, Rae returned to her roots in Zebulon, N.C., for an overwhelming reunion with her father Grady Battle’s family. She was able to connect with her half sisters, half brothers and their families, some of whom she had never met.
Rae will be fondly remembered by family and friends for her sense of style, sense of humor, love of shopping, music, joke telling, dancing and playing (and winning) at cards and board games.
In 2011, before her decline in health, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren celebrated her 90th birthday on both coasts (San Jose, Calif., and Martha’s Vineyard) and dedicated the song Because You Loved Me (Us).
Rae was predeceased by her youngest daughter, Stephanie Coleman-Butler; her half sister, Gloria Moore and half brother, John Bull Battle.
Rae leaves her children: Jocelyn Coleman-Walton (Duncan) of Oak Bluffs and Odenton, Md.; Marcia Coleman-Joyner (Hewitt) of San Jose, Calif.; Gretchen Coleman-Thomas of Oak Bluffs; Jay (Dottie) of Fort Myers, Fla., and Oak Bluffs; three half sisters: Sandra Fraser (Wolfie) of Rockville, Md.; Deborah Battle of Irvington, N.J.; Cynthia Allison (Robert) of Dallas, Texas; three half brothers, Robert Mitchell (Diane) of Las Vegas, Nev.; David Donald Battle of Nashville, N.C.; Cephas Battle (Lillian) of Chesapeake, Va.; 10 grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and a host of nieces, nephews, friends and colleagues.