William Sloane Coffin ’42 Dies; Won ’04 Fuess Award

The Reverend William Sloane Coffin, a member of the Andover Class of 1942, and a renowned peace activist passed away Wednesday at his home in Stafford, Vermont. He was 81. An activist throughout his life who was a World War II and CIA veteran, Rev. Coffin was an outspoken advocate for civil rights and stood against the Vietnam War during his tenure as chaplain of Yale University from 1958-1975. In 1967, Rev. Coffin and Dr. Benjamin Spock ’21, along with other protest leaders, were indicted by a Federal Grand jury for “conspiracy to counsel, aid and abet draft resistance,” though the conviction was overturned on appeal in 1970. Rev. Coffin helped organize the Freedom Riders, who rode buses and trains to the deep South to test the Supreme Court’s rulings outlawing segregation on interstate public transportation. After leaving Yale University, he served as Senior Minister of the Riverside Church in New York City from 1977-1987 where he openly and vocally supported gay rights at a time when even liberals were uncomfortable doing so. He retired from Riverside in 1987 to become president of the nuclear disarmament advocacy group SANE/FREEZE and continued to lecture and work on issues ranging from world peace and nuclear disarmament to homelessness and environmental protection throughout his life. Rev. Coffin was awarded PA’s highest honor, 2004 Claude Moore Fuess Award for his work. Since 1967, the award has honored alumni for “distinguished contributions to public service.” Known for his optimism and humor in the face of adversity, Coffin was known for saying to his students, “Remember young people, even if you win the rat race you’re still a rat.” According to Head of School Barbara Landis Chase, when former Dean of Admission Josh Miner was dying of cancer, Rev. Coffin called him “every morning to discuss [Mr. Miner’s] spiritual journey towards the end that was nearing. Josh’s last weeks were made not only bearable, but comfortable and perhaps even at times joyful from a spiritual point of view because of hie friend’s care and compassion and immense insights into the meaning of the life of the mind and the soul. And this was at a time when Bill himself was far from well.” Mrs. Chase said, “[Rev Coffin] could certainly be controversial…But, certainly, [he] was a splendid human being—-outsized in intellect and conscience.”