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Charles Copher, first dean of ITC, dies


NOTE: A head and shoulders photo of Charles Copher is available at

The Rev. Charles Buchanan Copher, former member of the Judicial Council and former dean of a conglomerate of African-American seminaries, died Aug. 15. He was 90.

His funeral will be Aug. 21 at First United Methodist Church, Hyattsville, Md.

In 1959 Copher became the first dean of the Interdenominational Theological Center, which brought together United Methodist-related Gammon Theological Seminary with other traditionally black divinity schools of other denominations. He had been a professor of Old Testament at Gammon from 1948-1959. At ITC he served as professor of Old Testament and languages and was academic dean. He was a vice president of ITC when he retired in 1978.

In addition to being the first dean of the theological center, Copher had the distinction of being the third African-American to hold a doctorate degree in the Old Testament in the denomination, said retired Bishop James S. Thomas, Atlanta.

"Dr. Copher was a very strict teacher and held students to a high standard of performance," he said. ITC established an annual lectureship in his honor in 1979, and it is ongoing.

The Rev. Oliver Haney, interim president of ITC said, "We are indebted to Dr. Copher for his many years of outstanding academic and administrative leadership. It was under his leadership that ITC's very first academic curriculum was developed. He leaves us a tremendous legacy."

Copher was elected to the Judicial Council, the United Methodist Church's highest court, by the Uniting Conference of 1968. He served two eight-year terms.

Copher received a bachelor of arts degree from Clark College in Atlanta in 1938. He subsequently earned bachelor of divinity degrees from Gammon and from Oberlin School of Theology. In 1947, he received the Ph.D. from Boston University.

Ordained a deacon on trial in the Central West Conference in 1937, Copher attained full connection in 1940 and was ordained elder in 1941. He transferred his membership to the North Georgia Annual Conference in 1967.

During his student years, he served churches in Oberlin and Columbus, Ohio, and then in Boston.

A member of several academic organizations, Copher was the author of Men and the Book, 1962; Bible Persons Who Knew God: Old Testament, 1964; and Bible Persons Who Knew God: New Testament, 1964.

He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Marie. They were married May 24,1939. The couple had no children and had lived at Wesley Woods in Atlanta for several years. The Cophers moved to Maryland in April to be near Marie's sister. Mrs. Copher may be reached at 14997 Health Center Drive, Bowie, MD 20716-1071.

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