PORTLAND – Sylvia Coombs Unglesby, 81, of Portland, died May 12, 2021, with her son and daughter by her side at The Holbrook Health Center at Piper Shores in Scarborough.

Sylvia was born Nov. 6, 1939 in Portland, the daughter of the late Stella and David Erickson. She graduated from Deering High School in 1957. Her brother, Roger Erickson and sister, Lena Lathrop predeceased her.

On August 26, 1961, she married Robert E. Coombs. Sylvia and Bob were introduced to each other by her sister, and they fell in love and settled in Portland where they raised their children. They enjoyed hosting holidays for family and friends. There was always too much food on Christmas Eve, and anyone and everyone was invited. Sylvia loved to travel, while Bob enjoyed being at home, but she eventually convinced him to take a trip to Finland with her, and the next thing she knew, he had planned trips all over the world. He predeceased her very suddenly in 1994.

Sylvia graduated from Gorham State Teachers College with a B.S. and went on to get her master’s in early childhood education at University of Maine Orono. She taught 40 years and four months with most of those years in 2nd grade at Harrison Lyseth Elementary School in Portland.

In 1998, Sylvia was awarded the Early Elementary Teacher of the Year Award from the Southern Maine Association for Education of Young Children. She always said that her greatest career accomplishment was seeing the smiles on the children’s faces when they understood what she was teaching them.

Sylvia loved to travel with her sister and best friend, Lena Lathrop. It was on one of those trips, to Alaska, that she met Charles W. Unglesby. She retired to be with him and to travel. They were married on Nov. 16, 2002, and his family welcomed her. When they were not traveling, they spent winters in South Carolina and summers in Maine. Charles predeceased her in 2017.

During her retirement Sylvia learned how to quilt and crochet, which would have made her mother proud. She also volunteered at a respite care program for people with Alzheimer’s disease, volunteered in kindergarten classes, and taught English to adults.

Sylvia said her proudest moments were seeing her children graduate with undergraduate and graduate degrees. However, that changed when she became a grandmother to five of the best little people she could have ever met. Grandma’s house was a place for them to all gather, and where cousins became best friends. She loved teaching them, reading to them, and seeing them play together. She also attended numerous ball games, dance recitals, concerts, or any other event that her grandkids were in. If she went to an event for one grandchild, then she made sure she was at one for each of them.

Sylvia was very proud of her Finnish Heritage and enjoyed visiting the Finnish Heritage House in Thomaston. She would always quote a verse from the poem by Maya Angelou called Human Family, “We seek success in Finland, are born and die in Maine. In minor ways we differ, in major we’re the same.”

She is survived by her son and daughter-in-law, Robert and Melissa-Jo Coombs of South Portland, daughter and son-in-law, Robyn (Coombs) and Norman K. Berry Jr of South Portland, daughter Senja St. John of Maine; grandchildren, Matthew Berry, Maegan Berry, Ella Coombs, Anna Coombs, and Robby Coombs, all of South Portland; six nieces and nephews; and seven great-nieces and nephews.

A huge thank you to all of the staff at Holbrook Health Center for providing the highest quality care, keeping her safe, and for loving her everyday when we couldn’t be there during the past year.

Please visit http://www.jonesrichandbarnes.com to sign Sylvia’s online guest book.

In lieu of flowers Sylvia requests donations to the Harrison Lyseth Elementary School Library

175 Auburn St.

Portland, ME 04103 or the

Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. Donations can be made online at


or via phone by calling


or please send checks to

Grand Central Station

P.O. Box 4777

New York, N.Y. 10163

Guest Book