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Volume 39 Nș 2: July 2003

Laurie Copping - a wise gentleman

1 June 1920 -7 September 2003

Belle Alderman

Laurie Copping OAM, aged 83, died in Canberra on Sunday 7 September 2003, Father's Day. His passing has been felt by numerous community groups in which he was involved over many years and by his colleagues nationwide.

Laurie Copping was born in Concord NSW on 1 June 1920, the only child of Edward and Dorothy Copping. Laurie was brought up during the depression. His parents were committed to educating him and made many sacrifices to achieve this. He went to Pennant Hills Primary School and then was selected to go to Fort Street Boys High School. He was very fortunate to have had so many good teachers who gave him a love for literature and history. He attended Sydney University and after Teachers College he held a number of teaching positions, including Westmead Technical School and Millwood School (near Wagga Wagga). He enlisted in the air force in 1942 and served as a flight mechanic. During this time he met Irene, who was also in the air force and who later became his wife.

In 1945 as the war was ending Laurie became an educational assistant helping in the rehabilitation of the troops as they were returning home. He was also on Labuan Island when the peace treaty was signed.

After the war he returned to Pennant Hills. He was appointed to Hornsby Primary School and had a class of approximately fifty boys. During this period of time he was involved in teaching the boys rugby league and drama. He produced a play which was performed for Hornsby Hospital. After he left Hornsby he was made a lifetime member of Hornsby Hospital.

After his time at Hornsby he was appointed to Eastwood School where he taught an 'opportunity class' of bright 5/6 grade children. These students provided Laurie with his most rewarding teaching experiences and the class, who referred to themselves as 'Coppo's Oppos', continued to have regular reunions with Laurie. After Eastwood he was appointed at Melrose Park Primary School, then he went on further becoming deputy-principal at Beecroft Primary School.

In 1960 Laurie was appointed as principal to Hall Primary School in Canberra where he stayed until his retirement in 1982. During his years as principal in the 1960s, he bought children's books for the school library from Lu Rees, who was then the manager of Cheshire's Bookshop in Canberra city. She recognised Laurie's strong interest in children's literature and persuaded him to join the Children's Book Council ACT Branch in 1962. He remained an active member until his death.

Throughout his retirement years, Laurie remained in close contact with the Hall community and went on to set up the Hall School Museum, where he shared with students from all over Canberra and beyond, what school life was like in the early days. Laurie was proud that his efforts to save the school as a museum were well received by the whole of the community. He worked hard as the curator and committed himself to the museum until the end of his life. It was a great joy to him. Whenever he opened up the museum, current students would greet him and enjoy sharing time with him.

From 1962, Laurie was heavily involved with the Children's Book Council of Australia. Some of his roles within the organisation included being the president of the ACT Branch numerous times as well as National president, ACT judge for the CBCA Awards (1973-74), National archivist from 1988, regular reviewer for the CBCA journal Reading Time and a member of its editorial board. He was also instrumental in the setting up of the Lu Rees Archives at the University of Canberra in 1980, where he gave many volunteer hours for various projects. One activity of which he was especially proud was overseeing a donation of 3000 books which had been used by Walter McVitty during his teaching years in Melbourne. This involved many hours of checking the Lu Rees Archives holdings to determine which of the McVitty books were needed for the Archives.

One of Laurie's strongest interests was the establishment and growth of the national archives of the Children's Book Council of Australia. After the formation of the National Council in 1959, there was discussion from time to time regarding the records of the organisation. When a government grant of $500 to each Branch of the Children's Book Council became available in 1974, the ACT Branch decided to make a start by establishing an Archives and Records section and gathering the records of the Council and of Australian authors and illustrators of book for children. Lu Rees, who was then president of the ACT Branch, proposed this idea to all the Branches, who agreed. The following year an Archives Committee was set up including Lu Rees, Laurie Copping, Millicent Jones and Jill Gamble. It was Laurie who persisted year after year to fill gaps in the Children's Book Council's records. In 1988, the Annual General Meeting of the Children's Book Council of Australia formally appointed Laurie 'National Archivist', a voluntary position he held for the remainder of his life.

Laurie was a descendant of Henry and Susannah Kable and served on the Executive of the First Fleeters Association. He was an active member of St George's Anglican Church, Pearce. He was a long time reviewer of children's literature for The Canberra Times and wrote articles for Children's Book Week segments.

In his lifetime Laurie received many accolades. In June 1990 he received the Order of Australia Medal for services to Children's Literature. In 1991 he received the Inaugural Citation for Outstanding Service to the Children's Book Council of Australia. In 1993 he was awarded the prestigious Nan Chauncy Award for services to Children's Literature. He was made a life member of the ACT Branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia.

In his retirement, Laurie's family was his priority. He is survived by his wife Irene, twin daughters Trish and Rosemary, six grandchildren (one deceased) and three great-grandchildren. He will be greatly missed for his wise counsel, mentoring of those new to children's literature, and his vast memory of all that had happened in the Children's Book Council over 40 years. Whenever there was a question that could not be answered, someone would always say, 'Let's ask Laurie'. The many accomplishments and endeavours of Laurie will always remain in our hearts and minds.

Dr Belle Alderman is Professor of Children's Literature, Division of Communication and Education at the University of Canberra and collections development manager Lu Rees Archives of Australian Children's Literature.

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