Tony Simmons

Though Coy Pilson’s journey as an artist began while he was still in high school, life got in the way of pursuing his muse. Only many years later, while serving as the former principal of Rutherford High School in Panama City, did he once more flex his artistic muscles.

Now he calls himself “The Painting Principal,” and plans to take an audience through the steps of his journey during a special event in the Illumination series at FSU Panama City on Tuesday, Sept. 19. The event, including a live painting presentation and a showcase of his artwork, will be from 6-7 p.m. in the Holley Academic Center Lecture Hall, 4750 Collegiate Drive.

Admission is free and open to the public. Pilson will also have work available to purchase for a suggested donation, which will go toward Rebuild Bay County Inc., a long-term disaster recovery organization.

“I started my career as an educator, I got married, my wife and I started a family,” he explained. Then, in 2015, “My wife, a retired U.S. Air Force officer, was stationed in another state. My children were in college, and I decided to pick up the brushes again after 20 years to relax and pass the time.”

The community has embraced Pilson in a whole new way because of his artistic expression. In 2020, he had a gallery show, “My Journey,” at the Panama City Center of the Arts and consulted on an exhibit featuring the work of several local Black artists—work that was created as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

He said at the time that the exhibit was important to the community because it offered “a way to see the pain and the concerns of a community that is hurting.” He added that his hope was for patrons to understand that “the movement is not saying Black Lives Matter more, but that we matter as much.”

A man of faith, Pilson compared BLM to the parable of the shepherd told by Jesus: “He stated that the shepherd left the 99 to go get the one. All of the sheep mattered to the shepherd, but he took special effort to aid the one that was suffering. I believe BLM is asking our society to take steps for those who are hurting from injustice and racism.”

Though Panama City has been his home for many years since first moving here when his wife was assigned to Tyndall Air Force Base, Pilson is originally from the small town of Fieldale, Virginia. An educator since 1994, Pilson has worked at schools in Virginia, Florida and California. He taught in high schools and middle schools, and he served as an administrator in high schools for more than two decades, including his time at Rutherford.

As an artist, Pilson strives to encourage attendees to be creative. He hopes his work will bring a little happiness to all those who view it.

“I paint mainly as a way to relax and express my feelings,” he said. “I find peace in painting.”

The Illumination series of lectures and special events is part of FSU PC’s commitment to providing a comprehensive calendar of events, workshops and forums throughout the year that encourage the community to engage in meaningful conversations and educational experiences. The series provides opportunities to hear and learn from unique perspectives. For more information, visit