Henry W. Coil Jr., a Riverside native and community booster whose construction firm and personal giving preserved historic buildings, built multiple schools and strengthened programs for young people and the arts, died October 3, 2018 at the age of 85.
“Henry is one of those rare individuals who not only brings light to a room, but over his career has brought light to the entire Inland Empire,” UC Riverside Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox said in October of 2015, when Coil received the UCR Medallion for his contributions to the university and the community.
Coil was the founder and long-time president of Tilden-Coil Constructors, Inc, a Riverside-based construction and engineering firm that has built or expanded dozens of K-12 and higher education schools in the Inland Empire as well as a wide variety of general construction and restoration projects, ranging from the Pechanga Hotel and Casino in Temecula to the 1903 Riverside County Courthouse and, most recently, the 1926 Savings and Loan Building on Market Street, which was repurposed into The Center for Social Justice and Civil Liberties.
At the same time, Coil also fed his personal interests in architecture, photography, and the arts through substantial gifts of money and time. He was the founding director of UCR’s California Museum of Photography, serving on the advisory board’s early years with famed photographer Ansel Adams, and in 2012, bequeathed $900,000 to UCR’s Barbara and Art Culver Center of the Arts, to name the Coil Brothers Atrium in honor of his three younger siblings, Horace, James, and John.
And in 2010, as a tribute to his parents, Coil pledged $5 million to the Riverside Community College District for the Henry W. Coil Sr. and Alice Edna Coil School for the Arts, the largest single gift of funds ever received by RCC.
In an interview with The Press-Enterprise in 2012, Coil said he believed the arts are essential to create a vibrant community. “If we didn’t have art in its various forms, we would have a stale community,” he said. “Art is also a way of getting many people involved in the community in activities they enjoy, and encourages commitments of time and money.”
Coil lived that belief, serving as a Riverside city councilman from 1963 to 1967, and sitting on the boards of multiple community organizations, including the Community Foundation, the American Red Cross, Riverside Arts Foundation, the Boy Scouts, the Mission Inn Foundation, and the UCR Foundation. He also received numerous awards over the years, including the Boy Scouts’ Distinguished Eagle Award, recognizing his 50 years of continuous service, and the 2011 Roy Hord Volunteer of the Year Award presented by the Riverside Downtown Partnership.
“I like doing things that are meaningful, and I like leading by example,” Coil said in a tribute video produced by UCR in the fall of 2015. “My intent wasn’t to collect awards, but if it helps get others to give, it’s even a bigger benefit.”
Coil was a bachelor until 2015, when he married Linda Feldman in a private ceremony, just a few hours before receiving the UCR Medallion. Linda Feldman was a registered nurse who managed the HMO program at the Riverside Medical Clinic for eight years, then followed Henry's example and earned her law degree from Western State University in Fullerton. Upon graduation, she was recruited by the University of California to work as the legal risk manager at the University of California, Irvine Medical Center.
His father, Henry W. Coil Sr., was a prominent attorney in Riverside, general counsel for California Electric Power (now part of Southern California Edison) and a longtime planning commissioner. His mother, Alice Edna Coil, was an accountant — a rarity for women in those days — who moved to Riverside to teach courses at Riverside Business College.
Both were active in the community and Coil credited his civic-mindedness to their early example.
Coil was their first of four sons, born at Riverside Community Hospital in 1932. He joined the Cub Scouts when he was 9 and was active in Scouting throughout his youth, and earned his Eagle Scout sash in 1946. Coil told Riverside Magazine that he still had his sash in 2013, and was active in Boy Scouts all his life, including two stints as president of the local council in 1988 and 1998.
He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1954 with a degree in civil engineering and joined the Navy, serving as a Seabee in the Philippines. When he returned he used the GI Bill to earn a law degree at Western State University in Fullerton, but he never pursued the law. Instead, he went to work in engineering in Riverside, and in the spring of 1971, had a chance meeting with the company founder of Marshall Tilden, a construction company that specialized in building homes.
“At the time Coil was chief of plant engineering for Alcan Aluminum Corporation in Riverside, and Tilden was building custom homes,” Riverside Magazine reported in April, 2013. “The former was looking to strike out on his own; the latter asked Coil to join him because he wanted to retire from the company, which he’d founded in 1938. Within two years, on his 65th birthday, Tilden did just that, leaving Coil at the helm.”
Coil was just 38, but under his leadership, Tilden-Coil Constructor’s Inc. grew to take on a much broader scope of commercial, industrial and institutional projects. Coil resigned as president in 1998, but he still came into the office every day, working long hours under the title of “past president.”
He traveled some, he told Riverside Magazine, but he never wanted to leave Riverside for long. “I have always enjoyed what I do,” he said. “I enjoy working. I like it here. This is my home. I don’t want to be anywhere else.”
Coil is survived by his wife, Linda Feldman Coil, his brother John M. Coil (Ann), and two nephews, Clinton Coil, M.D. (William Robb) and James Coil; niece Jennifer Coil Perry (Jeff Perry), and their children Corin and Hope.
A private family funeral service is planned with a public memorial service to be announced for a future date.
In lieu of flowers, the Coil Family requests donations be made to UC Riverside, UCR Foundation, 900 University Avenue, Riverside, CA 92521.