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Published: Friday, 5/7/2004

A quiet achiever

BILL Copeland was one of the most unpretentious public servants ever in Toledo politics. During his 30-year career in public service, he made local blacks proud and stood as a mentor.

Mr. Copeland, 82, who died Tuesday, was a man of few words who never hogged the limelight. His quiet stability was an asset, and his courtly manner appealed to a cross-section of the community.

When he retired in 2002 after 12 years as the first black on the Lucas County Board of Commissioners - and he was among the first black county commissioners in the state - he had the respect of his political peers.

He began his labor career as an intern in 1946 at Laborers Union Local 500, and in 1971 became its business manager. The union headquarters on Ashland Avenue is named for him, a testament to his standing in the community.

Mr. Copeland was elected to Toledo City Council in 1973, and a decade later, became the city's second black vice mayor.

Inner-city residents respected that he continued to live on Indiana Avenue when he could have moved away. But as with any elected office holder, not everyone was happy with him. He was among several local elected officials who took advantage of a provision in state law to "retire," receive a pension, and then run for re-election in 2000, a practice labeled double-dipping. He also disappointed some folks when he insisted on running one more time that year. He was 78 then, his health was declining, and it seemed sensible that he step aside for the good of the party.

But he ran again and won, and was proud of the commissioners' role in developing Fifth Third Field.

His was a career of quiet achievement, and in a political world full of noise, that makes Bill Copeland worth remembering with fondness.

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