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Thursday, September 19, 2013
Rob Coles, the fifth great-grandson of Thomas Jefferson, who often appeared as his famous relative at public events and in schools, died Tuesday at his Charlottesville home.
He was 61.
The red-haired and freckled Jefferson descendent was a well-known figure throughout town but was best known nationally for his portrayal of his ancestor.
Coles began performing as the third president in skits, plays and in personal appearances more than 35 years ago.
His one-man show, “Meet Thomas Jefferson,” included dialogue with contemporaries and Founding Fathers, Jefferson’s feud with other presidents and the story of the Declaration of Independence.
He even addressed the 2007 graduating class of Piedmont Virginia Community College in character.
“I met him in Miller’s Restaurant [in the 1980s] and asked him if he was a [University of Virginia] student, and he said, ‘No, I’m the fifth great-grandson of Thomas Jefferson and go about the country portraying him,” said Phyllis Popkin, an area poet. “We had just founded the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Healing Arts, a holistic center, and asked if he would appear at our meeting as Thomas Jefferson.”
Although she told Coles the group had no money to pay for his appearance, he agreed to do it. “He spoke beautifully. It was easy to believe he was in contact with Thomas Jefferson,” Popkin said.
Stories about Coles’ appearances appeared in Life magazine, National Geographic, The New York Times, People, The Washington Post, and even the Russian news outlet Pravda.
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