Dr. Thomas P. Copeland, age 94, passed away
Monday, 22 June 2015, at Christian Care Center,
Johnson City, TN following a lengthy illness.
His life had an impact on many of us as he was
the Chair of the Department of Biological Sciences
at East Tennessee State University. He retired in 1983 as Professor
after 33 years of service to the university. He moved to Johnson City in
1950 to teach at ETSU.
He always called me "Coffey" and I had many fond memories of
his presence in the halls of the science building and elsewhere.
Students use to enjoy the fact he sometimes stood in the center hall
and watched over students as classes changed - something like a high
school principal lording over the rowdies.
I made a point of patting him on the back and telling him how nice
it was to see him as I walked past.
He once responded by reaching in his suit pocket and pulling out
a large cigar which he proudly presented me. Then he fetched
his lighter and we stood together in the hall and made small talk
while we smoked cigars. He seemed to love that. I did ! Classmates
made fun of me for weeks after I schmoozed up to him in a cloud
I remember, in much later years, that he was so impressed with
Charlie Smith, when Charlie was a sophomore, that he gave him a
key to the building so the young and promising student
could come and go at all hours to study and work in the labs.
Young Charlie earned his Ph.D. at Cornell University and was
once acting director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.
Another memorable encounter with "Copeland" came on
25 April 1969 at the Unaka Naturalist Rally at Rock Creek
Park at Erwin, TN. A crowd of 150 persons turned out to
hear Dr. Copeland and myself share the main speaker
slot around an evening campfire. My naturalist friends
were giving me a terrible time about how "Copeland" was
going to just humiliate me with his scientific presentation
and I would be blabbering with my little nature talk on
birds. I was nervous when I rose to give a talk on "Birds of
Prey" and all about our banding nestling horned owls and
big hawks and a Golden Eagle on Roan Mountain. The crowd
was responsive and showed great appreciation. I was relieved.
Then "Copeland" took the main speaker's position
and showed a canned 16mm black-and-white movie about
how bees pollinate. You can imagine I was thrilled and
made my buddies eat their words. It was not that he couldn't
do better, he simply brought a film he felt everyone would
enjoy and understand. No harm but much fun.
He also was the chair of the department when I was able to
arrange to get him to receive the 3,092 bird egg collection
in 637 clutches (sets) and representing 392 species of North
American birds made by Bob Lyle of Johnson City just before
Lyle passed away with a heart attack in June 1971. Lyle was
in terrible failing health and had become devastated that he
could not get anyone to take his proud and valued egg collection.
I promised him I would someday get it done. Dr. Copeland
and I negotiated a two-page contract 27 November 1967
and met to sign it 18 February 1970. I had moved the many
large and heavy boxes to my home in Bristol. Dr. Copeland
provided faculty, transportation, specimen cabinets and space
for the collection to be moved back to Johnson City and put
in the permanent collections of the biology department.
ETSU still has and sometimes uses those eggs for teaching.
Dr. Copeland was a Fellow of the Tennessee Academy of Sciences
and was also a Danforth Foundation Fellow. Other professional
affiliations included the American Association for Advancement
of Science; Biological Society of Washington; American Institute
of Biological Sciences; American Society of Zoologists; Association
of Southeastern Biologists; Tennessee Academy of Science; Society
of Systematic Zoology; American Association of University Professors;
American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education; Tennessee
Education Association; National Association of Biology Teachers;
National Science Teachers Association; Sigma Xi; Fellow, National
Science Foundation; American Men of Science; Who's Who in South
and Southwest; Leaders in American Science; Dictionary of
International Biography; Who's Who in Arkansas; Community
Leaders of America.
A native of McGehee, Arkansas, he was the son of the late H. P.
and Pearlie Copeland.
He was a 1947 graduate Ouchita Baptist University and received
his Master's degree from George Peabody College in 1950 and
the PhD degree from the University of Tennessee.
At the time of his retirement from ETSU, Dr. Copeland was asked
to donate his research to the Smithsonian Institute where it
currently resides in permanent collection.
Dr. Copeland was a WWII veteran, having served in the U. S. Navy
as a Pharmacist's Mate, and participated in four major invasions
including Saipan, Leyte, Luzon, and Okinawa in the South Pacific.
He subsequently served as an officer in the Naval Reserves prior
to his honorable discharge in 1956.
Dr. Copeland's hobbies included woodworking, motorcycling,
and flying his airplane.
He was a member of the American Legion, Lifetime member
of the Johnson City Masonic Lodge, ETSURA, Central Baptist Church,
and William R. Rigell Sunday School Class.
Dr. Copeland is survived by his wife of 65 years, Jean Scott Copeland,
daughter Dr. Rebecca Copeland, Johnson City, son Mr. Scott Copeland,
League City, TX, and daughter-in-law Sherree Copeland, as well as
several nieces and nephews.
A celebration of life service is planned at 1:00 p.m. for Friday, June 26,
at Central Baptist Church.
The family will receive friends from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in the church
atrium with services to follow at 1:00 p.m. in the sanctuary. Burial will
follow at Monte Vista Memorial Park. Honorary pallbearers will include
President Paul Stanton, Mr. Roy Dellinger, Dr. Dorman Stout, Mr. Bobby
Upchurch, Mr. Jimmy Starr, Mr. Dennis Powell, Ms. Rosemary Whitson,
Ms. Marshia Adams, Ms. Jan Showalter, Ms. Deborah Tyree, Mr. James
Allen Scott, Rev. Willard Warfield, William A. Coleman, Jr. Capt. USN, Ret.,
and the William R. Rigell Sunday School Class. Active Pallbearers include
Mr. Gary Rosenbaum, Mr. Harold Licht, Dr. Buddy Stribling, Mr. Tim Fann,
Mr. Tony Martin, Mr. Rich Mutton and Dr. Ken Olive.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial donations be made to
Central Baptist Church Music Ministry in care of Mr. Tony Martin.
A special thanks goes to all of Dr. Copeland's caregivers at Christian Care
Center, Johnson City, TN.
Online condolences may be made via: www.morrisbaker.com.
Morris-Baker Funeral Home and Cremation Services, 2001 E. Oakland
Avenue, Johnson City, TN 37601 is serving the Copeland family. (423)
With warm and respectful memories . . . .