College mourns loss of beloved dean

John Coker dedicated 32 years at USF to developing the College of FineArts and nurturing the growth of the art community throughout the TampaBay area.

Coker, Associate Dean for the College of Fine Arts, died Wednesday June13 at University Community Hospital. He was 74 years old.

Ron Jones, Dean for the College of Fine Arts, worked with Coker forthree years. He said Coker often held the department together.

“John provided a kind of stable force through the years,” Jones saidJones said Coker’s main job was to handle budgets for the College ofFine Arts and keep it running smoothly.

“There are two ways he could handle that: as a job or with acommitment,” Jones said. “He was 100 percent committed to this collegeand this university.”

Brenda Woodard, who worked with Coker since he arrived at USF, said atone time or another he headed every department in the College of FineArts except for the art department. She said Coker could always becounted on.

“We’ve seen good times and hard times,” Woodward said. “He was alwayshere and gave us a consistency. You could always count on John foranswers.”

Woodard said Coker was a kind man and she described him as a trueSouthern gentleman.

“He was loyal to the college always and put so much energy into it,” shesaid.

Woodard said even as Coker lay in the hospital, gravely ill, he wouldcall in and make sure everything was running smoothly. She said Cokerwas typical of his level of commitment to USF and to the College of FineArts.

Cheryl Harris, a friend and co-worker for 20 years, said Coker was ajack-of-all-trades for the College of Fine Arts, always doing whateverwas needed to be done to further the arts at USF. Harris said Coker wasextremely patient and a good listener.

“He was well respected and dedicated,” Harris said. “There wasn?t a daythat goes by that I didn’t learn from him.”

Harris said Coker was responsible for putting together programs throughthe years that helped draw the art community to the Tampa area. In theearlier years of his tenure at USF, he was instrumental in bringing artsto the community. The major source of the arts in Tampa during thattime period was USF.

“He was always promoting the arts and the college,” she said. “He wasout here every night and weekend at events.”

Carl Musson, who began working with Coker in 1980, said not only didCoker want to bring art events to town, he wanted students to be able tolearn from them.

“He was insistent on the teaching part of bringing things to town,” hesaid.

Musson said for every art show that came to town, Coker made sure hisstudents would learn from the artists and benefit from the experience.This was as important to Coker as getting the events to come to USF, hesaid.

Musson said Coker did a lot to help the students in the College of FineArts.

“The students are probably not aware of all he did,” he said. “He wasliterally the backbone of the college.”

While promoting the arts throughout the Tampa area, Coker also held avariety of positions in the College of Fine Arts, such as the InterimChair of Theatre and Acting Chair of both Dance and Music. All of hisaccomplishments stemmed from his childhood and education in the SouthernUnited States.

Coker was born in Knoxville, Tenn., and grew up in Clinton, S.C. Hegraduated from Davidson College near Charlotte, N.C. After chairing themusic department at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., he was hiredby USF. In 1969 he came to USF and entered into a very young fine artsprogram.

During his 32 years at USF, Coker played an active part not just indeveloping the College of Fine Arts but in bringing art to the entireTampa community.

He was actively involved in the Arts Council of Tampa throughout the1970s, served as a board member for the Tampa Oratorio Society from 1969to 1972, and was the Chair for the Hillsborough County Museums AdvisoryCommittee in 1982. Coker had a large hand in creating the art communitythat exists in Tampa today.

A memorial service is being held for Coker Wednesday June 27 in TheatreI.

Coker is survived by his wife Dorothy as well as four stepchildren andhis niece, Amy Coker Pascoe.

Musson said Coker’s influence and the results of his life’s work stretchout over USF and the entire Tampa arts community.

“The arts in Tampa and the arts on campus … he?s the foundation it wasall built on,” he said. “He will be missed.”