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March 17, 2014

Business Professor Samuel Coppage Remembered Fondly By Colleagues, Students


Samuel Coppage, associate professor of information technology and decision sciences in Old Dominion's College of Business and Public Administration, died Sunday, March 9, 2014, at the River Pavilion of Sentara General Hospital. He was 65.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 5, at Grace Episcopal Church, 1400 E. Brambleton Ave., Norfolk.

The long-time faculty member, who left a stint in the New York business world to join ODU in 1983, is fondly remembered by colleagues and students, for both his scholarship and mentorship.

Bruce Rubin, associate professor of finance, said Coppage lived by Coco Chanel's maxim, "In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different," using it as a tagline in emails.

"Sam certainly was one of the most unique individuals I have ever known," Rubin said. "He cared deeply about his students and colleagues. In many ways he was the conscience of the faculty regarding curricula issues, always aware of the potential for unintended consequences."

"He was truly one of the most brilliant people I have known. His presence will be greatly missed by the college, university and local community to which he gave so much of his energy."

Coppage's influence on Norfolk, ODU and especially his students will be felt for years to come.

For David Simmonds, an adjunct faculty member in information technology who will earn a Ph.D. from the university in May, Coppage meant even more.

"Dr. Coppage was my Ph.D. adviser and he was also the course coordinator for the course I teach. But much more than that, he was like a father figure to me," Simmonds said. "My own dad passed a year and a half ago and ever since, I had adopted Dr. Coppage as my dad. He was extremely instrumental in keeping me, a Ph.D. student from Jamaica, here."

Coppage had been very ill, but Simmonds said that a few weeks before he died, he ordered Coppage to stick around to make good on his promise to hand him his Ph.D. at graduation. "I am sorry he is not going to be there to see me graduate, but I do intend to make him proud," Simmonds said.

Elizabeth Rasnick, another of Coppage's Ph.D. students, credits him for her M.B.A. degree completion from ODU.

"Dr. Coppage and I met early in my computer science master's program. Over the next several years, he patiently helped me learn, not solely about academics, but also about the complexities of academic life," Rasnick said.

"Without his encouragement I would not have dreamed of achieving such a degree. This is how Dr. Coppage was with his students in all the lessons he taught."

Prior to joining the ODU faculty, Coppage worked at Bell Labs and as a private information systems consultant in New York City. He earned a B.S. in mathematics at Virginia State University, and a master's of science and Ph.D. in computer science and mathematics from the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University.

He returned to Norfolk, where he had grown up the son of Samuel Coppage Sr., a prominent Norfolk dentist and a community and civil rights leader. The younger Coppage received a 2009 Martin Luther King Jr. Award from Tidewater Community College for his efforts to preserve and edit his father's papers, which cover his civic and professional activities in Norfolk from the 1920s to the 1970s.

Rubin said Coppage was also proud of his service work with the Feldman Chamber Music Society, the Tidewater AIDS Task Force and the Norfolk Sister City Association. He was one of the first life-members of the Youth Branch of the NAACP.

Coppage also served as a commissioner of the Norfolk International Airport Authority, on the board of directors of Norfolk NATO Festival (formerly Norfolk's International Azalea Festival) and on the Community Advisory Board for Tidewater Community College (Norfolk). He was an active member and supporter of the Democratic Party.

Coppage had a passion for living and made strong friendships wherever he went. Later in life he developed a keen interest in the people, culture and cuisine of the Bahian region of Brazil, becoming fluent in Portuguese and steeped in the study of Candomblé.

A very devoted son and nephew, Coppage cared for his mother and aunt, Dr. Mildred Jordan, for many years until their passing in recent years at ages 106 and 101. He leaves behind his cousin Leon Bunch and his family, as well as other cousins.