Peggy Coghlan left Longview better than she found it.
Coghlan, 89, died Thursday after a lifetime spent in service to her community and dedicated to education. Passion and drive, big heart, vision for the world around her — those themes were constant when people who knew and worked with her over the years talked about Coghlan’s contributions to her city.
“We were all just very fortunate to have her and to know her,” said former Longview Mayor David McWhorter. Coghlan was a teacher of his at Kilgore College, and he originally ran for City Council at her urging in 1993.
“For most of my life, Peggy has been a mentor and somebody that I looked up to very much,” he said, describing her as a “pillar of the community.”
Coghlan was salutatorian of her 1946 graduating class at Kilgore High School. She went on to graduate in 1948 as valedictorian from Kilgore College, where she was a Rangerette.
She met her husband, Howard, at Kilgore College, and they were married 65 years until his death in 2016. He became a prominent local oil and gas attorney and civic leader as well, with the couple working on numerous projects together.
They led fundraising to help build the Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center without debt, for instance.
Peggy Coghlan also spearheaded fundraising for the Longview Public Library, which opened in 1987. Construction was funded by a $2.9 million bond, and Coghlan headed a committee that raised more than $1 million for books, furnishings and other items. In the weeks before her death, she and her family donated $50,000 to the library that will be used to support its popular Summer Reading Club.
“I met Peggy when I first came to Longview, and she was working on the new library,” said Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt. “It was very clear she was the driving force behind that library. And it’s turned out to be one of the better assets we have in this community.”
McWhorter said Coghlan, who was passionate about education, knew Longview needed a first-class library.
“That’s why she worked hard to help bring people together and raised the funds to do that,” he said
“You needed somebody who had that vision for what the future could be,” he said. “And Peggy Coghlan always had a vision, and for us, it was for the betterment of Longview.”
Library staff mourned Coghlan’s death in a Facebook post.
“We are devastated and heartbroken over the loss of a woman who was truly beloved by all: Dr. Peggy Coghlan. Peggy was adored by our entire community, but has an immensely special place in our hearts for her unwavering dedication that made our Library what it is today. Let us be clear: We have our Library today because of Dr. Peggy Coghlan! In the late 80s, Peggy helped raise $1,107,000 for our Library to provide furnishings, equipment, and books for what was then a brand new Library,” the post states. “Over the years, Peggy’s love of our Library never diminished, and she took great pride in all that we, and by extension she, were able to provide for our community. ”
In her life, Coghlan wore the title of “first” on several occasions: She was the first assistant director for Gussie Nell Davis and the Kilgore College Rangerettes; the first woman to receive a Doctor of Education from Texas A&M University; and later the first woman to be named vice president of Kilgore College in 1993 until her retirement in 1996.
People who worked with her at Kilgore College recalled her love for the school, with former college President Bill Holda describing her as “an immovable force with a big heart.”
“On her first day (as vice president) at Kilgore College, she addressed the entire KC faculty and staff in the Dodson Auditorium. She began by saying, ‘On my refrigerator is a magnet that says ‘If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.’ “
He credited Coghlan’s “drive and vision” for starting the Kilgore College Foundation.
“Whether it was raising funds for the foundation, or whether it was her drive to refurbish and fund the Rangerette Museum Showcase, Peggy knew how to get it done. She used what she called the ‘Grand Club,’ whereby each member would contribute $1,000. She would call people and say, ‘You are going to be a member of the Grand Club. I don’t want any discussion. Send your check for $1,000 or more to this address,’ ” Holda recalled.
She also contributed steadily to the school over the years as she encouraged others to do.
“Peggy never hesitated telling folks what they needed to be doing, and her blunt, direct instructions were always balanced out by her kind, generous heart,” Holda said. “Behind the scenes, she helped many individuals with thoughtful gifts. When I finished my Doctorate in Education, Peggy insisted on framing my diploma for me. That was the type of continual thoughtfulness she exhibited.
“Both Howard and Peggy Coghlan left a lasting impact on Kilgore College and on the East Texas community. They were best friends to one another for their entire lives, and now their lifelong romance will continue on into eternity.”
Michael H. Turpin, the college’s vice president of instruction, said the college was saddened to hear of the death of a “beloved retiree” and “true friend.”
“From her days as the first assistant of Rangerette founder and director, Gussie Nell Davis, to her tenure as vice president of instruction, Dr. Coghlan left an indelible mark wherever she went,” he said. “Full of energy and enthusiasm, Dr. Coghlan was an encourager of faculty, staff, and students. Along with her late husband,...he was also a generous financial supporter of the college, having given to many projects and having endowed a Rangerette academic scholarship.”
Stoudt also recalled Coghlan’s integral role in establishing the University of Texas at Tyler Longview University Center.
“Those big legacies of hers show that she was a big believer in education, and she put her passion into working to build assets that supported that,” he said.
State Rep. Jay Dean, a former Longview mayor, worked with her on issues regarding the University Center.
“I don’t know any other way to describe her than by her passion. Her passion for her community was monstrous,” Dean said. “She had a very keen understanding of what Longview should look like and what Longview should be. In a very special way, she made that known to all the elected officials.”
She continued to have ideas for how the center is operated, he said.
“When she set out on an issue or a passion that she had, it was a very well thought through and organized process that she got behind and pushed the community toward. She could be very demonstrative or she could be very soft; it just depended where she was on that specific issue.”
Kim Casey Droege, executive director of Keep Longview Beautiful, said she had known Coghlan about 20 years. She laughed, recalling one of the lessons Coghlan taught her:
“She always, always took a bite of dessert first. She taught me that, and I do that same thing,” Droege said.
“You always wanted to please Dr. Coghlan,” Droege said. “She always grabbed your arm when she was speaking to you and would always just stare at you right in the eye. She just did so much for the city of Longview.”
McWhorter said the city has lost a person who was “very important” in its history.
“We just have to be blessed that we did have her for all the years that we did,” he said.
Coghlan is survived by her son, Kelly Coghlan, daughter-in-law Brenda Coghlan, grandson Kelly Jack Coghlan Jr., daughter, Katie Coghlan; and sister-in-law Jean Crowder.