John Coppie died on September 14, 2006, in Baltimore following a stroke. His memorial service was conducted by our classmate Reverend Wally Anderson.
If I were to write an article for Reader’s Digest on “The Most Unforgettable Character I Ever Met,” without a doubt my subject would be John Coppie. John was a unique individual with a brilliant mind. He was an avid reader, particularly of history. Primarily because of his army service in the Korean War, where he lost a number of comrades, he abhorred war. However, he strongly supported America’s involvement in Iraq because he felt we were doing what had to be done.
At Amherst, he was member of Phi Delta Theta. Gary Holman, a fraternity brother, related an incident that showed both the enigmatic and the noble sides of John’s character. A Jewish boy was proposed for membership, and in a secret ballot, he was blackballed for no apparent reason other than his religion. It happened a second time. The third time, John arose and announced that he was the one who had blackballed the boy and was now withdrawing it. Everyone knew John hadn’t done it, but his action effectively served to thwart the objection of the person responsible, and the candidate was admitted.
John was arguably the best bridge player in Baltimore. Over the years, he participated in numerous national bridge tournaments and amassed thousands of master points. He had an incredible memory and could recall hands he had played years before and recite the card distribution and play of famous hands from international competitions. John probably acquired his bridge acumen from his parents, both of whom were excellent players.
A sports enthusiast, John closely followed Baltimore teams. He often showed his encyclopedic memory by reciting detailed statistics of teams from bygone years. In earlier years, he attended dozens of Orioles games each season. One year in college, we went to a Cleveland Browns game at Yankee Stadium. A friend of John’s dad was a Browns coach, who arranged for us to visit the Browns’ locker room after the game, where we were thrilled to meet Otto Graham and other members of that legendary team.
John’s first job was with Carrier Corporation, where he rose to assistant to the chairman and, very interestingly, taught a course in humanities to the company’s officers. He later held a managerial position with Shell Oil and finally entered the securities business, concluding his career with Merrill Lynch.
John was married once, but it didn’t last. For many years thereafter, he lived with his good friend, Chuck Robson. Throughout his life he remained devoted to his brothers, Comer and Bob. Comer, a dedicated Democrat, told me that John loved to pull his chain, most recently by predicting Rick Santorum would be the next President of the United States.
John called me several times a year, and they invariably were lengthy conversations, the last one shortly before he died. Although after graduating he never attended Class or Amherst functions, he retained an intense interest in our Class and the College and always asked about classmates he remembered fondly.
After John died, classmate George Grover called me and read this witty and delightful little poem about long-gone Walker Hall that John composed in college:
As I wander by old Walker
In my mind the question sticks...
Doth the Brick hold up the Ivy.
Or doth the Ivy hold up the Bricks.
In his heart, John Coppie was a loyal Amherst alumnus. He and I were different in many ways, but for nearly sixty years, we were close friends. I miss him.
—David C. Fulton ’51