A tribute to my Dad

19 Oct 2015

My Dad, Lee Copeland, died last Tuesday. Folks have been very kind in expressing their sympathies; I really appreciate it. We're going to miss him a lot. Here are some things that I mentioned at the funeral and have been thinking about.

Dad invested in people. There was a big crowd at his funeral, many of whom Dad met 20-30 years ago when they were attending Longwood or Hampden-Sydney college and his church, Faith Bible Fellowship. As I was going through his effects, I was tracking down upcoming appointments, and I had to call students that he was scheduled to meet with that week. He poured many many hours into people's lives, listening to them and offering wisdom that you only get from a lifetime of counseling.

Dad was a big Yankees fan. He and I would talk about the latest injuries, trades, slumps, and rookies once every few weeks. He had a bunch of DVDs of Yankees World Series victories and such. The night before he died he was at a good friend's house watching the Cubs-Cards game. But he never let his enjoyment of the game dominate him. If the Yankees lost he would groan, but then would move on rather than getting depressed or getting fussy with us kids about it. He kept his enjoyment of baseball in its proper place.

Dad was a man of God. He pastored at a small church in a small town for 40 years, through many people moving through the church, through a variety of buildings, etc. He was a scholar; he read Hebrew and Greek, had read through the Bible many, many times, and had a stack of concordances - all of which he had read! - 10 feet high. One of my fondest memories is waking up in the morning and walking into the living room and seeing him sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee perched atop a stack of books and reading his Bible.

Marvin Fisher, the pastor who gave the benediction at the funeral, said that my Dad would sit in the Farmville Ministerial association meetings and not say a whole lot as the various discussions went back and forth. But he said that a day or two after the meeting "you'd get a phone call, and Lee would say 'hey, why don't we grab coffee', and then he would have some helpful things to say". I think my Dad was smart enough to understand not just how to talk people but when to talk to them.

My wife and I recently told my parents that we were expecting another child. The next day a nice bouquet of flowers showed up at our house. On the card was not "we're happy for you" or "congrats!" or "we're so proud" or anything like that, which would have been great. Instead, my Dad's message was to my wife, and it read "you make us very happy". It was a wonderful thing to say and it showed what a kind and thoughtful guy he was.

Dad and I had many gallows humor-laden discussions about death. He had many phrases that he'd employ: "just put me in a pine box", "don't say 'there's Dad in the coffin', that's not me, that's just a shell", "no matter what you've done, you never know when a beer truck will hit you". All of those discussions reflected his understanding of death being part of a fallen world. He had what he called a "death box" under his bed, which was a cardboard box containing insurance policies and whatnot. On the cover of it he had written "Oh death where is thy sting." So, all that to say that for him death was not something to be ignored or denied but instead was a deliverance. I think his was a good way to go - to be in good health and mentally sharp, to watch a ballgame with a friend, to come home, and to die in his sleep was a great blessing.

I'll miss my Dad terribly, and my Mom and sisters will also. But we rejoice in the thought of him being welcomed home as a good and faithful servant.