Miles Coburn: A Man of the Heights

Miles Coburn

Saturday morning, August 16, was one of those clear and sunny Northeast Ohio mornings that makes you wonder why anyone would go anywhere else for a summer vacation. It seemed as if half the population of the Heights was out walking, jogging, gardening, or just taking in the day.

The conditions were especially good for a long bike ride, and many cyclists (myself included) spent a few hours on the road that morning. One of us didn't make it home. Miles Coburn was hit and fatally injured at the intersection of State Route 44 and Music Street in Newbury Township.

The tragedy reverberated through the community and was widely covered in the print and broadcast media. People stood in line for hours at the wake, and the following Saturday morning brought a steady procession of bicyclists on Music Street, clearly paying homage.

The extent and depth of feeling were a direct result of the way Miles Coburn lived his life, with a rich variety of involvements that exemplify what living in the Heights can be. The many hundreds of people who attended the wake at John Carroll University on the Wednesday evening after the accident represented a striking range of connections.

There were the colleagues from John Carroll, where he had been a professor of biology since the early 1980s. There were current and former students. Fellow environmentalists. Family members. People from the arts community, who knew Miles as the quiet, friendly husband of Heights Arts director Peggy Spaeth — a guy who would gladly haul chairs around for a cookie or two. Bicycling companions. Neighbors from Kingston or Queenston or Princeton roads. Other families whose kids attended Canterbury Elementary, Wiley Middle, or Heights High school. Scouts and leaders from Boy Scout Troop 22, where his son Kevin had become an Eagle Scout. The jazz band director from Heights High, where Kevin played, and his daughter Rosey still does. Kids from Project Qué?, a program he initiated to help Hispanic youths from the near West Side get involved in math and science.

The line took a long time to move, and meanwhile all these people spent that time speaking with each other about Miles; about the shared interests and passions that brought them there; about kids going to college, new jobs, daily goings-on. The cumulative impression was of the unmeasurable value this man's life had contributed to so many around him — and a reminder of how even one life can so strongly bind a community together.

Miles grew up in University Heights, and many of his siblings still live around here. Peggy, too, is a local kid. They could have gone anywhere, but they both decided to stay here and make this a better place, and their efforts have succeeded admirably. People like Miles and his family, with quiet determination and good humor, have continued to make the Heights area a wonderful place in which to live, work, play, go to school, raise a family, walk the dog, ride a bike — to live life to the fullest. The more of us who live by that example, the better.

A Ride for Miles is planned for September 20. Visit for information and to register.

Greg Donley is a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights.

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Volume 1, Issue 6, Posted 2:32 PM, 08.26.2008