A. Wayne Coy · 1995
From Franklin High School to Franklin College to the Franklin Star to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Such was Albert Wayne Coy’s progression from student to newspaper city editor to close adviser to the president of the United States.
And, of course, there’s more to the story of Coy’s life. He also was an Indiana governor’s right-hand man; he helped his state and nation administer Depression-era and wartime programs designed to aid the poor and jobless; he served his nation abroad in the Philippines; he headed the Federal Communications Commission; and he returned to Indiana to begin a new facet of his career with media giant Time Inc.
But he didn’t get to finish that last facet because he was claimed at age 53 by a hear attack on September 24, 1957, just a few months after he had come back home again to Indiana.
Coy was born in Shelbyville and moved just a dozen or so miles down the road to Franklin, where he attended high school and college. He graduated from Franklin College in 1926 and later received an honorary doctorate from his alma mater.
By age 16, he was a reporter on the Franklin Star, where he later became city editor. In 1930, he bought the weekly Delphi Citizen and was its publisher until 1933.
That’s when the political bug but this son of a Republican family. But it was a Democratic bug. The Delphi Citizen had Democratic political leanings, and Coy made the move from newspapering to politics.
First he was a party chauffeur, driving candidates from campaign stop to campaign stop. Soon, though, he caught the eye of Gov. Paul V. McNutt, who named Coy his undersecretary in early 1933. By August 1934, Coy had become director of Indiana’s welfare department and also state and regional director of McNutt’s Commission on Unemployment Relief.
He later was state and regional director of the Works Progress Administration and was in charge of Indiana’s prison system.
In 1936, he was named head of a new state agency, the Department of Public Welfare. In that job, his initiatives brought praise from Harry L. Hopkins, FDR’s lease-lend administrator. Soon, Hopkins asked Coy to administer WPA programs in several Midwest states, a foreshadowing of Coy’s impending move to Washington, D.C.
But first came a move to Philippines with McNutt, who became U.S. High Commissioner to that nation.
McNutt and Hopkins were Coy’s links to FDR. After Philippines, Coy was administrative assistant to McNutt when the former governor was named to head the Social Security Agency. In fact, one reporter speculated that Hopkin’s knowledge of Coy had much to do with McNutt’s appointment.
That reporter, Everett C. Watkins of The Indianapolis Star, wrote from Washington in April 1941 about the FDR-Coy relationship this way:
“Wayne Coy was completely unknown to the President at the time of Mr. Roosevelt’s election in 1932. But for the last four or five years the President has shown an increasing interest in Mr. Coy who was introduced to him by Hopkins…
“It has been recognized here (Washington) for a long time that Coy has a standing with President Roosevelt that is closer than that of any other Indiana Democrat.”
Coy became seriously ill after arriving in Washington — “following an operation he was in a Baltimore hospital for mare than six months and for a time doctors despaired of saving his life,” Watkins wrote — but recovered, and at age 37 was named as the liaison between FDR and the Office of Emergency Management in 1941 at the outset of World War II.
At that point, his old boss, Gov. McNutt, commented: “Wayne Coy is so big in ability that he will measure up to any job, no matter how important.”
And Watkins observed: “Mr. Coy, in his increasingly important work, will become a personal agent for the President; all his acts and deeds will be recognized as representative of the President’s wishes. Coy and Hopkins will be personal representatives of the President even more than any Cabinet member.”
In 1942, he became assistant budget director, a spot he held for two years.
Five years later, Coy went from the service of Harry Hopkins to the service of Harry Truman, who had become president after FDR’s death. In 1947, Truman needed a new chairman for the FCC, an administrator to oversee broadcast media, which included this still infant thing called television.
Coy became Truman’s chairman, and it was during Coy’s five-year tenure that color television came fully into being. Fittingly, as Coy’s friend, the late Eldon Campbell, noted a few years ago, Coy’s portrait as chairman was the first in color to be hung in the FCC meeting room.
In 1952, Coy resigned from the FCC and joined Time Inc. One of his first tasks was purchasing the KOB radio and TV stations in Albuquerque. He held half-interest in those stations and was their president in manager.
In spring of 1957, when Time Inc. bought the WFBM stations in Indianapolis, it asked Coy to return to his native state to run them.
But in less that six months, death would prevent Coy from finishing his career, back home in Indiana, just a few miles from Franklin where it all began.
Still, as his good friend Campbell wrote, “Wayne Coy was…one of those men who crammed an amazing career into a few short years.”
Coy is survived by sons Stephen Coy, now retired, and Wayne Coy, a communications lawyer in Washington, D.C.