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Debi Coleman, a Pioneer of Oregon’s Tech Industry, Dies at Age 69

The former Apple executive relocated to Oregon and, after retirement, enjoyed a second act as a Broadway producer.

Debi Coleman, who played an important role in the early years of Apple Computer, has died at age 69.

Coleman, who graduated from Brown University and got an MBA from Stanford, worked on Apple’s original Macintosh team and rose to serve as the company’s chief financial officer and, later, vice president of information systems and technology.

She moved to Oregon in 1992, according to the Technology Association of Oregon, to take a job as vice president of operations and materials with Tektronix, then the state’s dominant homegrown technology company. In 1994, Tektronix spun out its printed circuit board business into a standalone public company called Merix. Coleman served as CEO and grew the business to $400 million in annual revenues. She left Merix in 2001 to co-found Smart Forest Ventures, which made early-stage investments in startup companies.

“Debi was one of our state’s greatest champions of the technology industry,” said Skip Newberry, president & CEO of the Technology Association of Oregon. “Through her angel investments and mentorships, she helped many emerging entrepreneurs launch enterprises that resulted in quality jobs for the people of Oregon. She was a true pioneer who never stopped thinking about what would come next and she blazed a path that allowed innovation to happen.”

As a pioneer in the male-dominated tech industry, Coleman was plainspoken, funny and willing to share the benefit of her experience with others.

“Debi was a staunch ally and champion for women and girls across Oregon, particularly within the technology community,” said Sandra McDonough, the recently retired president and CEO of Oregon Business and Industry. “She served as role model by demonstrating that women could reach the highest levels in their field. The many girls and women she mentored often heard Debi share a favorite Henry David Thoreau quote: ‘Go confidently in the direction of your dreams!’ as she encouraged them to live the lives they imagined.”

A longtime patron of the arts who served on the boards of the Oregon Ballet Theatre and the Oregon Symphony, Coleman expanded her activities in later years, producing Broadway plays, most notably Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which ran for 2,418 performances.

Coleman is survived by her mother, Joan, four siblings, 13 nieces and nephews and eight grand-nieces and -nephews.