A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Jacqueline Coleman has multiple exciting roles: mom, adoptive mom, educator, lieutenant governor

By Bailey Vandiver
Frankfort State-Journal

Jacqueline Coleman never saw herself in the role of lieutenant governor.

Nor did she expect to become a biological mother.

But on Dec. 10, she was sworn in as Kentucky’s lieutenant governor — and became Kentucky’s first statewide officeholder to be sworn into office while visibly pregnant. 

“It’s just been very surreal,” Coleman said in a Friday interview. “I never saw myself in either one of those positions, and here I am in both of them simultaneously.” 
Coleman, 37, was elected in November on the ticket of new Gov. Andy Beshear, who served one term as attorney general before being elected governor.

Coleman was already well into her election bid with Beshear when she and her husband found out they would soon be adding another daughter to their family.

“Most of the blessings in my life have been completely unexpected,” Coleman wrote in a tweet announcing her pregnancy Aug. 2. “So keeping with that theme, Chris and I will be welcoming the newest member of Team Beshear/Coleman in February.”

Coleman is already a mom; she calls herself a “bonus mom” to Frankfort High School students Will and Nate, husband Chris O’Bryan’s sons from a previous marriage, and she is about to officially become the adoptive mom of Emma Young, a senior basketball player at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

Before they were mother and daughter, Coleman and Young were coach and player — Coleman coached Young as girls’ basketball coach at East Jessamine High School in Nicholasville. The adoption will become official on Monday.

“In our lives, it really won’t change anything, you know, but it makes it official, and it gives her a place,” Coleman said.

When the adoption is finalized, Young will take both of her parents’ names, changing her last name to Coleman-O’Bryan.

Young made this decision because she wants to share a last name with the baby, whose last name will also be Coleman-O’Bryan, Coleman said. The sisters will also share a first initial; the baby will be named Evelynne, a family name.

Young had lived with several different family members due to drugs and substance abuse, according to a story about the upcoming adoption by KZTV in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Young was facing a move away from East Jessamine when Coleman decided to take her in as her own child, KZTV reported.

“Not everyone could have done what she did with Emma,” said Coleman’s longtime friend Karen Gumm Trial, who is also a board member of Lead Kentucky, a nonprofit Coleman founded to mentor and inspire young women to be leaders.

“She has the largest heart of anyone I know,” Trial said. “I think that will serve her great in her new role of being a lieutenant governor and a mother.”

Trial said it “speaks volumes” that Coleman, as a woman, is in such a prominent role — especially as an example to the young women Coleman has mentored through Lead Kentucky.

“I believe you can’t be what you can’t see …,” said Natalie Henderson, another of Coleman’s longtime friends and fellow Lead Kentucky board member. “So to see a woman who is both a wife and becoming a mother to a newborn and also parenting older children and taking on one of the busiest political offices in our state, I think it shows young women that it’s possible.”

Above all, Coleman is principled, Henderson said, and her principles govern her personal and professional lives. One memory in particular displays Coleman’s principles and loyalty for Henderson.

Henderson and her husband have adopted two sons, one of whom was brought home from Ethiopia by a friend because they both had to work. Their flight, originally supposed to land at 7 p.m., was delayed until 1:30 a.m., and many in the welcoming party had to leave before the flight landed.

“Who was still there with us at 1:30 waiting for our son to arrive?” Henderson said. “Jacqueline.”

Henderson said Coleman and O’Bryan are “as much our family as anybody else.”

Henderson and Coleman met when they were children; their parents went to bourbon classes together, Henderson said. Once they got to high school, they played against each other on the basketball court but were good friends off the court and at summer camps.

Coleman’s basketball career continued; she played at Centre College and was a graduate assistant for the University of Louisville women’s basketball team while getting her master’s degree before coaching and teaching at East Jessamine and later at Nelson County, where she was an assistant principal.

Still living in Mercer County in 2014, she ran for the state House seat that had been held by her father, Jack Coleman, and lost to Republican Rep. Kim King. The district includes Mercer and Washington counties and northwest Jessamine County.

Coleman said no Democrat won a race in those counties on that Election Day. “I looked at that and thought, I’m not going to take it personally.”

She called the loss a “time and situation issue,” much like two factors she teaches as a coach: “One of the lessons you teach your kids is (to) know time and situation. If you’re up two with 10 seconds to go, you don’t want to take a contested shot.”

Her loss was a function of those two factors, she said, because she was talking about issues that few others were aware of yet — such as the pension system, charter schools and funding for education.

“They had not zeroed in on that,” she said.

Now, of course, many Kentuckians have. Beshear focused much of his campaign on public education, often repeating the line that he cares about educators so much that he put one on his ticket.

Coleman said all of the same issues she had been talking about in 2014 popped up again around 2016, then in 2018 she stood outside the Capitol “with 12,000 of my closest friends in red T-shirts” protesting a pension bill being rushed through in the legislature’s final days.

“I thought now they get it, now they understand, and so give credit to Gov. Beshear for recognizing that, too, and seizing that moment,” she said.

Coleman said she would not have agreed to run with just anybody — especially after a tiring race in 2014.

“After you run in two and a half counties, and you think that’s a big deal when someone asks you to run in 120 counties, it’s a little overwhelming,” she said.

Coleman said she and Beshear formed a great partnership for many reasons beyond a shared interest in education — she’s from rural Mercer County while he’s from urban Louisville, for example.

Now she is the first lieutenant governor with an education background since Martha Layne Collins, who moved from that job to governor in 1983. Coleman’s focus on education will continue as Beshear has appointed her secretary of Education and Workforce Development.

Coleman will soon join another small group in Kentucky government: women who have given birth while holding elected office.

Treasurer Allison Ball became the first statewide official to give birth while in office when she had a son in 2018. Outgoing Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes became the second when she gave birth to her son later in 2018.

Grimes tweeted a photo on Dec. 6 of a crib filled with pink balloons that she gifted to Coleman, who said it was “very sweet.”

“I don’t know that 15 (or) 20 years ago that would’ve been possible, so I’m very grateful for the women who have come before and done the work and made it possible,” Coleman said.

Coleman said that once the new administration is more settled in, decisions will be made about what maternity leave looks like for a lieutenant governor. She said it has made her more cognizant of maternity leave for all working mothers in Kentucky.

She said there’s “no playbook” for what comes next, but she hopes this becomes more common. 

“We certainly need more moms — women certainly, but also moms — helping to shape public policy because it affects our kids,” Coleman said.

Bailey Vandiver, a University of Kentucky journalism student, covered the 2019 gubernatorial race for The State Journal. This story was published by Kentucky Today.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment