The Way We Were: Anne Coyle

The Way We Were: Anne Coyle
Anne Coyle at piano

Anne Coyle recognizes the difficulties of today’s COVID crisis, “but it is nothing compared to 1918. That was a time of war and a time of flu,” she said of what occurred more than 100 years ago. 

The Spanish flu pandemic during WWI hit her mother’s family hard. Coyle’s mother was the eldest of eight children. Coyle’s maternal grandmother died at the birth of her eighth child on Oct. 13, 1918. Three days later, Coyle’s maternal grandfather died on Oct. 16. Both had succumbed to the Spanish flu. But despite the family’s tragic history, Anne Coyle remains a woman flowing on a river of faith, song, and laughter.

Coyle brothers, Jack and Bob, Cadets at Bolles School, circa 1940
Coyle brothers, Jack and Bob, Cadets at Bolles School, circa 1940

Coyle was born on Dec. 30, 1929 in Washington D.C. to Catherine (nee Bowles) and Garrett Reilly. Her father ran his dental practice from the basement of their row house on North Capitol Street. Her mother had been a violinist in a 1920 trio with a pianist and a cellist; they’d play teatime at the Blossom Inn, wearing hats and gloves, and that’s where her mother met Garrett Reilly, a Georgetown University dental student.

Coyle graduated from St. Martin’s School and headed to high school at Georgetown Visitation Convent, America’s first Catholic girls’ school, which Coyle described as “gorgeous, wonderful, holy, happy, a great place.” On the commencement stage with Coyle were two Steinway grand pianos and Mrs. Heinl, her piano teacher. They played a duet of the first movement of a Rubinstein concerto for two pianos. A well-known member of the clergy, Monsignor Fulton J. Sheen, who would go on to be consecrated bishop and then archbishop, was the guest speaker. As he handed Coyle her diploma, he commented on her playing, “I thought I heard the angels sing,” he whispered to her. It was as if he had prophesized what would come in Coyle’s future.  

Following the ceremony, Coyle had a big party at Manor Country Club in Maryland. Her parents handed her a little box. In it were the keys to a brand new 1947 Oldsmobile Coupe, a shiny gray one. “In those days, it was very difficult to get a car because the major companies had been making war parts,” Coyle said. But her father had a helpful friend who owned a dealership.

After Visitation Convent, Coyle briefly attended Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore. “That didn’t last long, as I soon found out I was a very little fish in a big pond,” she said, though she had studied piano since the age of 7. She went on to graduate in 1949 from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Hygiene along with her sister, Elinor. Soon after, she met her future husband.

Coyle still recalls in detail the first time she ever laid eyes on John (Jack) Coyle, a Jacksonville native who attended St. Paul’s Elementary School in Riverside and then the Bolles School, class of 1944. Her older brother, Garry, often brought his friend, Bob Coyle, home for Sunday dinner. They had first met while attending Notre Dame during WWII. Garry went off to join the Marines, and Bob joined the Navy Reserves. When the war was over, Garry and Bob were both sent to Quantico Station in Virginia, close enough to the Reilly family’s Washington D.C. home for Sunday dinners. One Sunday in 1949, they brought along Bob’s brother, Jack, a Georgetown University student. From the second-story window, Anne watched him approach the front door. “Oh, he was handsome!” Coyle said of her future husband. “It was God-oriented,” she said. “No man could have put that together. It’s so far afield.”

Jack and Anne Coyle, Feb. 3, 1951
Jack and Anne Coyle, Feb. 3, 1951

They married in St. Martin’s Catholic Church on North Capitol Street on Feb. 3, 1951, almost 70 years ago! Monsignor Maurice Sheehy, a decorated navy admiral, attended. The weather was so cold that day, the floral bouquets froze. “It has been good. We have nine children, 15 grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren,” Coyle said. Some might say that her cup runneth over with blessings, but Coyle exclaimed, “I’m in a flood zone!”

After their wedding reception, the newlyweds boarded a train heading toward the Hotel Astor in New York City. “I can remember running to the train. Jack was carrying his shoes because we were so late,” Coyle said. In those days, women were wearing pant suits, Coyle explained. “I would love to have that suit right now. It was so beautiful! And I wore a hat with a little brim on it,” she recalled. 

From New York, they flew to Bermuda for a week, and then returned on the SS Queen of Bermuda. Her husband, who had been an honorably discharged from the Navy Seabees, instructed her to look out at the horizon to prevent seasickness on this, her first sea voyage. In laughter, Coyle recounted how sick Jack was for their entire trip. “He spent all that time in the bed requesting crackers while I partied the whole time on the ship!”

The couple decided to settle in Jack’s native Jacksonville. She drove down in her Coupe. They bought a house lot close to Timuquana Country Club, overlooking the putting green. As their home was being built, they lived in an apartment for a brief time, but later spent 42 years in that house, raising four boys and five girls. “It was quite an adventure,” Coyle said. “We had a station wagon, of course.” 

Coyle told how, in those days, there were no seatbelts or restraints in vehicles. She and her husband would put the seats down flat in the back, pile in the kids and a dog, and drive most summers up U.S.1 before it turned into I-95 from Jacksonville to Maryland to visit her family on a farm near Chesapeake Bay. As they drove, they would have singalongs to pass the time. “Side by Side” was a favorite. One time, on the return trip, the station wagon broke down. All 10 of her family members – her youngest daughter hadn’t been born yet – and the dog had to stay in a run-down, damp motel in Holly Hill, South Carolina until they could make arrangements with the bank and with her father-in-law to buy a new car to make it the rest of the way back to Florida. “I was looking for a church. I just wanted to go into a church and pray,” Coyle said, “but they were all closed.”

Raised in the Catholic tradition, Coyle received the sacraments. For most of her life, she was a daily communicant. “I was very staid, proper, devout,” she said. In 1972, she attended her first charismatic prayer meeting at a private home in Riverside. “At the meeting, I was very impressed by the joy in all the people. In February of 1973, at one of the meetings, I asked to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. I opened my hands and offered myself to God.” Soon after, she began hosting prayer meetings at her home every Tuesday morning for the next 20 years. All were welcome – Catholics, Protestants, and Lutherans alike. 

Since 1979, Coyle has written hundreds of songs and musical plays, all with biblical themes. Sheehy’s prophesy fulfilled. Up to that time, she would play Bach and Beethoven. She would play church hymns at masses. But she had not been moved to compose her own music until her granddaughter, Stephanie, was born. For the baby’s baptism, Coyle wrote a song she titled “Welcome Stephanie into the House of the Lord.” And so, it began. Coyle was nearly 50 years old, and original music started flowing through her.

For over three decades, an annual Christmas Eve tradition in her family is the performance of Coyle’s monologue “Thru Mary’s Eyes,” which tells the story of Jesus’s life from His mother’s viewpoint as written and composed by Coyle herself. She has performed the musical in her home for family, in churches for congregations, and in other venues for public audiences throughout Florida.

In 2010, as Coyle was getting ready to turn 81 years old, she expressed to God how grateful she was for all she’d been given—for her husband, her children, her music, and so much more than she could have ever asked for, such an abundant life. “I am so blessed. I am ready to come home,” she prayed. He stopped her mid-sentence. “Anne, I’ve saved the best for last,” she said she heard God say.

A few months later, in April 2011, she heard the calling to write the music for all 150 psalms. “I cracked up laughing,” Coyle admitted, wondering how in the world she was going to do that. But she placed her bible on a music stand and bought from Barnes and Noble a blank sheet music notebook. “OK, Lord, give me the tempo,” she said aloud. It took her three months to write the first 60. The remaining 90 came easily soon after. For many of them Bob Moore made musical arrangements enhancing Coyle’s original piano melodies. “He has made me look good,” Coyle said. Paul Burns recorded all 150 of them for her and posted them on her website PsalmBird.net. There, links can be found to purchase Coyle’s CDs, hear clips of live performances, and request a church performance.

Coyle Family – Top Row 1: Jack and Anne Coyle. Row 2: Elinor Coyle Cantrell, Garry Coyle, Mary Clare Coyle; Row 3: Patricia Coyle Farrell, Michael Coyle and Mary Coyle Green. Bottom Row 4: Jim Coyle, Anne Coyle Clewell and John Coyle, Jr.
Coyle Family – Top Row 1: Jack and Anne Coyle. Row 2: Elinor Coyle Cantrell, Garry Coyle, Mary Clare Coyle; Row 3: Patricia Coyle Farrell, Michael Coyle and Mary Coyle Green. Bottom Row 4: Jim Coyle, Anne Coyle Clewell and John Coyle, Jr.

In 2015, after 20 years in the Villages of San Jose, Coyle and her husband moved to Regent Place. “We decided to downsize to make it easier on the nine children when we go on to heavenly places,” said Coyle, who will turn 91 at the end of this year. The back of their condo overlooks Oaklawn Cemetery. “We have no problem because nobody’s making any noise,” she quipped. “I love to laugh,” she admitted. And her laugh is infectious.

During COVID quarantine, Coyle finished composing a children’s musical called “Christmas in July.” The production was inspired by her niece, Nellie Coyle Starling, who hosts a Christmas party every July in St. Augustine. Coyle is now in the middle of another production, a musical play called “Ruth.” She said, “I live in song. I sing all the time. I sing the scriptures. I sing to the Lord all the time.”

She still holds a license and drives along San Jose Boulevard, although her husband relinquished his license a couple of years ago. They remain faithful members of San Jose Catholic Church. 

The theme of her life has been like a river that she drifted along for a long time, Coyle said, then, she stirred in the river, looked up, and saw the great things that God has. “The river just flowed on. Sometimes, the water is rough, but I hung in there because He was in the boat with me,” she said. “And here we are, almost to the end of the journey. Hey, Lord, whatcha got?” Coyle asked with a giggle.

By Mary Wanser
Resident Community News

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