It is never a good thing that death brings people together. But going back eons in most cultures, the death of  folks have created reunions for the living.  If it is a cruel excuse to bring people to reconnect, that is a good thing.

That said, it was breathtaking on Sunday for the massive turnout of Tempe’s prominent and faithful to attend the memorial service for Leonard “Len” Copple, a civic leader and former Tempe city councilman and vice mayor.  The service for the 68-year-old attorney  was held in the lovely new sanctuary of Mission del Sol Presbyterian Church on Warner Road in Tempe.  (Admittedly, I imagined what it would have been like for the service  if the Copples had not transferred in 2002 from my church, University Presbyterian Church at College and Alameda avenues. They had been members there for 32 years and Len had served as an elder on the church board, or session.)

Longtime Tempeans — and the Copple family themselves– were amazed at the response of people to attend on a Sunday afternoon in glorious, albeit windy, weather.  To put it bluntly, it seems like everyone who was important in Tempe community life was there for a 75-minute celebration of an incredible life of a very competent, bright, humble, duty-bound human being.   People came early expecting a large crowd. Sure enough by 1 p.m. the large sanctuary was full and the overflow backroom took additional people.

I sat beside a Gilbert couple, transplants from Washington state and friends of the Copples.  I couldn’t help myself doing a play-by-play commentary for them as I pointed out many of  the  notable people coming in and taking seats.  Len had served on the Tempe City Council in 1993-94, taking the six months left on the term on Don Cassano, who resigned to run for mayor.  I sat next to Don Cassano.  Seemingly all the city council and department heads of that time and when Len served again on the council (1998-2006) came, along with people from so many  non-profit groups where Len so selflessly gave his time.

The three Copple children –Christy Copple, Cathy Swann and Brian Copple — handled the  “reflections” part, concentrating largely on their personal memories and experiences with their wonderfully loving and devoted father.  Their emotions impacted all of them, especially Christy, who was hard to hear through sobs.  The Mission del Sol pastor, the Rev. Art Campbell, added some perspective.   Admittedly, I  really expected someone from the community  — maybe good friend Richard Neuheisel, co-founder of Sister Cities, or Congressman/Former Mayor Harry Mitchell or current Mayor Hugh Hallman or  former Councilman Barbara Carter or Councilman Don Cassano — would give that important segment of his civic life.

But a funeral plan is almost always  forged by the deceased and the family.  Brian Copple said a couple times that Len would never have expected such an overwhelming turnout of people at his funeral and even would feel a bit guilty to take up so many people’s time on such an afternoon — humble as he was.  So I wanted to hear much more about the civic leader than the good father and husband who died May 24 of leukemia after a nine-month fight.

But maybe we already know so much of that about Len.  His great newspaper obituary was a veritable textbook of that life’s litany. What a chronicle. We would have enjoyed learning more about Len’s part in the light rail project, the Tempe Arts Center, the quest for an Arizona Cardinals Stadium in Tempe and development of the envions of  Tempe Town Lake, plus his early work with the Centers for Habilitation, Tempe Salvation Army, Planning and Zoning Commission and so many, many law and attorney group tasks.  The man from Yuma was one “good and faith servant” and Pastor Campbell said.

Afterwards, the somber mingled and reconnected.  It was, of course, a blessing to the hundreds and hundreds on hand to spend quality time visiting with many people we had not seen in years, all part of the fabric of Tempe. Many people now retired and not commonly seen were there.  It was a tremendous reminder of the talented and purposeful people that make up that special place we call Tempe.  It was also a reminder that we who have been very engaged in Tempe life are able to come to know many, many people from all sorts of contexts.  Sometimes, we have been involved with them in a half dozen different organizations or experiences.

That wondeful Sunday afternoon funeral of Leonard Copple  was indeed a Tempe reunion of an incredible cross-section of  Tempe’s talented and engaged, people who have given so much to this community.  It is part of Len Copple’s legacy as well.   Len is a paragon of a life well-lived, well-balanced and humble.  All of us feel privileged to have known him, worked with him and marveled at the better community we have because of his good work.

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