PUBLISHED: 3:57 PM on Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Remembering a life well-lived

Lee Leschper
There are probably a few thousand people better qualified than me to write about Toby Coate.

Yet somehow I feel a need to say a word about this inspiring young man.

Toby drowned last week while seining sockeye salmon on the Thorne River on Prince of Wales Island.

He packed several life times of living and generosity into his brief 28 years.

It's a reminder that life is always fragile in the rugged country we call home, this land of which many men dream, but few embrace.

Toby truly embraced, drank deep and savored every drop of life in Alaska.

At an age when most of us had yet to drive, he was commercial fishing and working construction, both passions that he never lost.

Toby grew up in Juneau and the Southeast, more outdoors than in.

He graduated from Juneau Douglas High School and attended the University of Alaska Southeast.

Just this year he launched a new business of his own and married the girl of his dreams.

He seemed in tune with the tides and weather and fish and game animals.

His dad Ken once observed that while most of us might labor for weeks to find a salmon, Toby could find one anywhere, any time of year.

He just knew.

He seemed to have just the same affinity for tuning in to people, whether as student and student body president at the University of Alaska Southeast, or in living and sharing his faith.

Courtesy photo
Last fall we spent a memorable evening with Toby and then-soon-to-be bride Emily Bell and a few other friends, at Ken and Linda Coate's house.

Ken and Linda had returned from a great caribou hunt and we were celebrating with hours of hunting and fishing tales over a huge slab of caribou roast.

It took only a few moments to realize that here was a young man uniquely qualified to thrive in Southeast Alaska.

He was equally comfortable talking about his new business and about tracking blacktail deer, about calling ducks and the future of the timber industry in Alaska.

Both passion and joy describe the way his enthusiasm struck me.

We agreed to hunt ducks the following week. I recall laying out shotgun and waders one evening, in preparation. But we both got busy, the opportunity passed, and now never will return.

There's no tragedy greater than a life so full of promise cut short.

In this case, it's a tragedy for all of us who call Southeast Alaska home. There were great things in his future that would have benefited us all.

This fall I will take that duck hunt, in the place and way he recommended.

And when the ducks arrive, as Toby long ago predicted they would, the first mallard will get a pardon and a salute in Toby's honor.

Maybe that's a memorial that only a duck hunter can appreciate.

It's tempting, certainly true, to say that he died doing what he loved. But that's too easy. Better to say that he lived doing what he loved and left a better place than he found it.

Leschper is general manager of the Capital City Weekly and advertising director of the Juneau Empire.