Note: The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of Local Tech Wire and business editor of

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – The e-mail came late last night with only a name in the subject line. I stiffened instantly, fearing the worst yet praying for the best.

Preacher Donald Coates, whom I befriended through e-mail in our shared battles against cancer, has begun a new journey in a land where there is no pain, no suffering, no disease and no death.

He will be missed.

Preacher Donald, who pastored at Pine Level Free Will Baptist for three decades, also was a counselor and Director of Student Services at North Johnston High School. He leaves behind a family he cherished, a flock he nurtured, and thousands of friends and students he loved in a life that ended much too early at age 54.

“Thank you to all who kept up with Donald as he dealt with his cancer,” his wife of 31 years wrote. “He passed away this morning at 9:26am. He cherished you and your prayers.”

On my arm is a wrist band – “Our Journey with Preacher Donald” – that he gave me with pride when I journeyed to his church to meet in person a man he did not know but whom he pastored so well. His church had distributed the bands as part of their collective battle to seek healing for their preacher.

Just a year ago, I reached the five-year survival point in my own battle with colon cancer. Preacher Donald helped me achieve that milestone with his friendship, counsel and prayers.

He blessed me. I’ll always cherish the memories of praying together for each other, our hands clasped, in his office.

However, his fight against a rare form of cancer is one he couldn’t win. He fought so, so bravely.

Bravery in the shadow of death

Why he didn’t survive and I did is a question only our God can answer.

How we face death is important, and he did so in a way that made all who knew him quite proud.

In his passing, he gives encouragement to those he left behind to strive to live better lives, to be better people.

For those of us given a second chance at life, his death also triggers soul searching. How can we even begin to pay back a debt that has a dollar amount beyond even the means of Solomon to erase?

The e-mails Preacher Donald shared with a circle of friends about his battle always contained prayers and encouragement even though he described rare and unique treatments that would strike fear into the heart of the bravest soldier.

Farewell to a brother

To his wife, Ashley, I wrote this letter:

My dear Mrs. Coates,

Donald and I met through e-mail; he had read about my own struggle with cancer and reached out to encourage me even as he battled his.

I came to Pine Level twice (once with my wife), and we became friends immediately – two men now part of the cancer brotherhood, we joked.

I cherish the memories of our meetings, worshiping and praying together. I also always read with great expectation but as well as trepidation the e-mails he shared with friends, family, and his flock.

Having not heard from him in many weeks, I feared the worst.

I still have the wrist band he gave me – faded and worn as it is, but a cherished reminder of a friend now gone to a new life, a better place, serving His Lord and Master in a place where life never ends. In a Bible, I have a bulletin from the services I attended along with the brochure about the Church where he so lovingly pastored for many years.

Yea though Donald walked through the shadow of death, he drew comfort from you, his loving family, his flock, hundreds if not thousands of friends – but most of all he also knew God was with him, Jesus prayed for him and the Holy Spirit was always a part of him.

May God bless you in these difficult days.

I am proud to have called Donald a friend. The brotherhood has lost another cherished member. But he will live on in our memories until we, too, are someday called to a new Home.

The obituary of Preacher Donald Coates

From the Coates family:

Donald Albert Coates, 54, passed away peacefully at his home on 1/27/11 at 9:26 am. He was surrounded by his family, leaving for heaven to be with the Lord from the earthly home he loved. Donald was a graduate of Smithfield-Selma High School, did his undergraduate studies at Barton and Mount Olive Colleges and earned his Masters Degree in Counseling from ECU.

He was the pastor at Pine Level Free Will Baptist for almost 30 years. In addition to being a full-time pastor, he served Wilson’s Mills Elementary and West Johnston High as a guidance counselor before becoming the Director of Student Services at North Johnston High.

Donald was a devoted son, a committed husband, and a loving father. He was the son of Lucille Johnson Coates and the late Rev. Albert Thomas Coates of Smithfield, NC. He is survived by his wife of 31 years, Suzanne Carr Coates as well as his sons, Matthew and Jordan of Pine Level, NC, Austin of the home, daughter, Ashley of Princeton, NJ; his sisters, Bonnie Coates Glass (John), of West Swanzey, NH, Janet Coates Clark (Randy), of Grant’s Pass, OR, brother, Daniel Coates of Atlanta, GA; father and mother-in-law Wayne and Pauline Carr of Donalsonville, GA, sisters-in-law, Lauren Spooner (Wade) and Veronica Pearce of Donalsonville, GA. In addition are his many other beloved relatives across the country as well as his church family at Pine Level Free Will Baptist Church.

The graveside service will be held at Price Cemetery in Pine Level at 5:00 pm Saturday January 29, 2011. It will be followed by a memorial service at 6:00 pm at Pine Level Free Will Baptist Church. The family will receive friends in the fellowship hall of the church following the memorial service.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to:

Pine Level Free Will Baptist Church, P.O. Box 337, Pine Level, NC 27568;

Johnston Memorial Home Care and Hospice, attn: Laura Hurt, P.O. Box 1376, Smithfield, NC 27577;

The Young Disciples, c/o PLFWBC, P.O. Box 337, Pine Level NC 27568

Goodbye, Preacher Donald

Those who you left behind are better people for having known you.

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