Teen shows remarkable resilience Inverness youth perseveres, excels despite family deaths

Chris Coward was only 4 when his mother died from breast cancer.

Carolyn Coward taught reading and language arts at Lecanto High School.

“I don’t remember her, but I have videos — my birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, boat rides — and I’m thankful for that,” said the now-14-year-old.

“I’m told she was happy and fun loving, and my dad always said how beautiful she was, and that she would make everyone smile,” he said.

After his mother died, Chris and his dad, Kevin Coward, hung out together all the time.

Kevin Coward was the music teacher at Inverness Primary School, a tenor who sang professionally and who taught music at the University of Tampa before coming to Citrus County.

When Chris was a student at Inverness Primary School, those were golden times with his dad.

“It was the most fun I’ve ever had,” he said. “Every day after school I’d walk to his classroom and we’d have fun. He was loved — everybody wanted him as their dad.”

Then on March 13, 2013, Kevin Coward died after a brief and sudden illness at age 44, six years and 12 days after his wife, Chris’ mother, died.

Chris’ grandparents, Terry and Gail Miller, moved from their own home in Inverness into their son’s house to raise Chris. His grandmother, Gail, worked as a residential nurse for the Key Training Center. She and Terry were active community volunteers, at the Key Center and Fort Cooper State Park.

Then Gail died in June 2015, and Terry followed four months later in October.

Recently, Chris held an estate sale at his grandparents’ house. People who knew his parents and knew his grandparents came.

With all that he’s been through, Chris is doing well, said longtime family friend Nancy Topping.

* * *

If there was ever a young man who was well-loved, it would be Chris Coward.

When his grandfather became ill, he went to live with the family who would become his legal guardians.

When Terry Miller died, many of Chris’ relatives in Michigan and throughout Florida wanted the boy to come live with them. But, they gave Chris the choice, and he wanted to stay in Citrus County.

“It’s where I grew up and where my friends are,” he said.

His guardian, who asked to remain anonymous, said Chris is resilient and amazingly strong.

“Everybody who knows him loves him,” she said. “He’s a product of Citrus County, and he wanted to stay here so badly. People have been so kind to him.

“There have been a lot of people who knew his mother and knew his father who have been asking about him. He’s done so well and has come through so much adversity, and he’s just a shining star,” she said. “He’s an honor roll student, takes advanced classes and is the only student in Citrus County selected for the All District Orchestra.”

* * *

If losing someone you love is devastating, losing four people in your short lifetime must be horrific, and Chris is still working out his grief.

A musician like his father, he plays his dad’s trombone. His father’s grand piano, now his, is on loan to Citrus High School until he wants it back.

“My dad loved performing in front of a crowd,” Chris said.

A cook like his grandma, Chris has perfected his scrambled eggs with cheese and bacon, using his grandmother’s cookware and dishes.

“That’s the first thing I learned to cook, and it’s still my favorite,” he said.

His grandmother’s cookbook, with loose pages bound with several rubber bands, is one of Chris’ cherished possessions. He cooks enchiladas, cream of chicken and biscuits, sweet and sour cabbage.

In memory of his mother, he is passionate about the cause of breast cancer and participates in the Relay for Life and Race for the Cure events.

His ambition is to become an orthopedic surgeon.

“I’ll continue practicing music on occasion, but I mostly want to become a doctor,” he said. “My uncle Mark, who’s a doctor, told me that music will be that one friend that you’ll have a blast with when you’re going through your studies.”

* * *

Recently, Chris reconnected with his maternal grandmother, whom he hadn’t seen in 10 years, and now he’s looking for his biological grandfather.

He’s adjusting to living in a home where he’s not the only child, adjusting to having to make adult decisions about conducting an estate sale and selling his family’s possessions.

“We are a family of faith,” said Chris’ guardian, “and there have been questions and doubt, but his belief is strong. People who know him say that God has something planned for his life; something big.”

Chris said he wanted to tell his story in case there’s someone else out there who is going through the same thing.

“I want people to know they’re not alone,” he said, “and that God has a reason for everything.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy at 352-564-2927 or nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.

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