An Evening with Andrea and Barry Coleman
Andrea and Barry Coleman are the dual force, quite literally, behind Riders for Health, and the most inspirational people I’ve ever met in person. True, I did meet US Olympian Jesse Owens when I was 15, and I’m sure he would have been inspiring if I had not been far too shy and intimidated to talk to him.
Andrea and Barry always make me feel that I should be doing more, much more, to help Riders build a health-care infrastructure in Africa – which I have never visited. I believe in what they are doing, but even more in who they are as people.
Recent events brought them from their home in England to Seattle for a meeting and dinner. The LeMay Museum in Tacoma has named Riders for Health the designated charity for their second annual vintage motorcycle festival to take place in late August. Andrea and Barry flew in and met with Director of Development Dominic Dobson and others for several meetings. I was invited to drive down to the museum for a short tour at 4pm, to be followed by a dinner for assembled folks at the Pioneer Grill.
For the tour of the LeMay (America’s Car Museum) we were joined by Al, a volunteer docent. That is when things began to get amusing. For one thing, I think Al has the knowledge and enthusiasm to do a two hour tour of the museum. We had about 30 minutes.
The tour group consisted of me, Andrea and Barry, and Jim Boltz, owner of Cycle Barn. You need to know that Andrea grew up in a motorcycle racing family and culture, and road-raced a Yamaha 250 in her late teens. Barry is a respected moto-journalist who has written a great deal, and authored the biography of Kenny Roberts. In essence, the two of them know everyone of any import in the motorcycle universe for the past 50 years. It became apparent very quickly, particularly when viewing the museum’s motorcycle collection, that the 4 of us knew a lot more about motorcycles, including the specific bikes on view, than Al did. Poor Al- he struggled to pass on meaningful information as the four of us bounced off to random stories about motorcycles in all directions.
As Andrea pointed out with understanding to Al, working with motorcyclists is a lot like herding cats.
We were joined by Diane Fitzgerald, sort of the straw boss in charge of the schedule. She and her husband Burt Richmond do a lot of work for both the LeMay and Riders for Health. With Diane’s gentle coaxing we eased away from Al, who was very kind but must have been frustrated by his difficult charges.
We picked up Jim Boltz’s wife Jeanette in the lobby and made our way in separate cars to the Pioneer Grill.
There I had an adventure with two different recalcitrant parking meters, which kept telling me to put my charge card in all the way while not allowing me to. A couple of other guys were having similar problems. I almost gave up three times, as there was only ½ hour left to 6pm for a parking violation to take place. Eventually the one fellow got the machine to work with his car and graciously also purchased a parking receipt for me. I tried to pay him back and he laughed and said the cost was less than a stamp! Of course, stamps cost more these days…
Inside we were joined by Gary Lewis, the owner of Bellevue Ducati, and his GM Kevin Davis. They’d not met Andrea and Barry before, and were about to have a shocking experience – several of them.
First of all, Barry and Andrea are pleasant and mild mannered grandparents who are unfailingly polite, gracious, and kind to everyone they deal with. Set that image in your head, and then add to it the personal knowledge of virtually everyone of any significance in the small pond that is international motorcycling in the past 50 years, and you have this jarring juxtaposition of fantastic pieces of information coming from people you cannot imagine having them.
Gary and Kevin are both road racing (and everything else) motorcycle enthusiasts. They know a great deal, and Gary owns many classic motorcycles and racing motorcycles – some of them many decades old and quite valuable, including several BMWs.
Imagine the look on their faces when they asked a question, prodded by Diane, and Andrea regaled them with tidbits such as:
- Her grandfather organized the first motorcycle race ever held in England – in 1903.
- Her father raced for the BMW factory prior to WW II.
- Her father did racing development work for many of the most famed British brands during his career.
- Andrea road raced a Yamaha TD 250 as a young woman
- Her brother was Peter Williams, a successful racer who was the first to create a monocoque frame for a motorcycle as he tried to keep Norton, which could not compete in horsepower, in the game with lighter weight and better handling.
- Her first husband was noted English road racer Tom Herron, later the name behind the famed Herron Suzuki race team in England.
It was a struggle to not laugh out loud as I watched Greg and Kevin continually try to keep their jaws from crashing to their chest as this lovely grandmother told them matter of fact stories about her experiences. I’ve had the pleasure of the company Andrea and Barry several times, so I am a bit used to it. Fortunately, Barry was in conversation with Jeannette Boltz, or he could have added his own experiences. It might have just been too much for Gary and Kevin to take in.
As an analogy, imagine that you’re sitting in your living room and suddenly an English bulldog that you’ve never seen before walks into the room and begins to act out Shakespeare’s Hamlet …all of the parts. First you have to deal with the reality that an English Bulldog is in your living room. Then you must reconcile that he has apparently memorized an entire Shakespeare play and is reciting it in soft spoken English with (to us) an appropriate accent.
Finally, you realize the most astonishing thing of all – his recitation of the play and acting are of tremendously high quality, and you are moved by the performance!
At some point Andrea was asked for the history of Riders for Health, which is akin to a fastball straight down the pipe to a serious hitter – she can hit this one out of the park. The story of how she (working on Public Relations for Randy Mamola at the time) and Barry and Randy came to be aware of the need for basic transportation and infrastructure to support it in remote areas of Africa is incredibly inspiring. She and Barry have made this their life’s work for decades, with continuous support and involvement from Randy Mamola. Their achievements are astonishing, and so is the potential for the future.
Later, Kevin made the comment that he thought it was great that Riders was beginning to reach out to dual sport riders, as dual sport motorcycles are the basis of much of the work Riders does. He mentioned that he had watched, several times, the Ewan McGregor DVDs of world trips by motorcycle. Andrea agreed, and of course launched into several amusing anecdotes involving her friend Ewan. One that I could not hear well included Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines. More jaw dropping.
There is no ego here from Andrea or Barry. They are not name-dropping. They are totally focused, and have been for a long time, on the needs of so many thousands of people in Africa for the basic health care that will allow people to live productive lives and improve the life situation of so many.
At this point you’re expecting a heart-felt plea from me to support Riders for Health. I could write until I the computer goes up in smoke and not come close to the compelling case made by the information on the Rider’s web site:
I urge you to spend time surfing through the wealth of material there, and then consider getting involved yourself. We have several Riders events scheduled this year where you can donate and also have a great time, and of course there’s always room for more volunteers. In fact, there are Riders events in many world locales, including the Moto GP round at Laguna Seca.
I hope that you choose to know more, and that at some point in life you get the joy of spending an evening in the company of Andrea and Barry Coleman. Then, like me, you might find yourself driving up I-5 in a torrential downpour late at night, laughing out loud at the delightful and inspiring stories you have heard, and determine that you will do more.
Copyright David Preston 2013